FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A landmark general store in Two Rivers has been destroyed by fire.
The wind-whipped blaze tore through Tack's General Store Monday morning, burning to the ground the rural, one-stop shopping mall, cafe, post office, gas station and greenhouse complex at Mile 24 Chena Hot Springs Road.
No one was seriously injured in the fire, which was discovered by a store worker at about 10:30 a.m.
''The minute I saw it I knew it was over,'' owner Dick Stenach said, sitting on the tailgate of a Suburban after receiving treatment for minor smoke inhalation from Two Rivers Rescue workers.
Winds gusting to 35 mph turned the fire into a roaring blaze within a few minutes. Two Rivers does not have fire protection service, but even if it did, Stenach said chances of saving the structure would have been slim at best.
''It happened so fast that by the time we discovered it it was too late,'' Stenach said. ''The whole east side of the building, including the roof, just took off.''
The fire burned the store, cafe, post office and three of six greenhouses, but things could have been worse, he said. With the wind blowing it the other way, the fire never threatened to ignite a pair of gasoline pumps in the parking lot and it didn't spread to the woods surrounding the 21-year-old store.
''Nobody got hurt and nobody's house got burned down so I'm thankful,'' Stenach said.
The fire apparently started outside, in the back of the store. An investigation into the cause is continuing.
By the time the store, cafe and greenhouses were evacuated, the back and side of the store were fully engulfed in flames. Stenach suffered a minor case of smoke inhalation when he re-entered the burning store to make sure everyone was out, at the same time grabbing a computer containing the store's records.
The store served as a gathering place for the community, located 30 miles east of Fairbanks. The store also housed the community post office, which served 250 to 300 residents. In addition, more than two dozen people were employed at Tack's.
Chris Pemberton, who has lived in Two Rivers for 12 years, stood across the road with his wife and two children as he watched the flames die down.
''This was our lifeline,'' Pemberton said. ''I can't believe it.''
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