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Bisbee building rebuild underway, five weeks after fire

Crews plan to start taking down second floor walls by Friday
Bisbee Fire Chief Jim Richardson in front of the burned buildings on Main Street.
Posted at 6:12 PM, Mar 20, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-20 21:12:23-04

BISBEE, Ariz. (KGUN) — More than a month after the Valentine’s Day fire in downtown Bisbee, the middle of main street remains shut down.

The city now says the badly burned historic buildings cannot be preserved, and instead will be reconstructed.


Fire Chief Jim Richardson, who also grew up in Bisbee, says “nothing like this has happened” in his 22-year firefighting career. He calls the fire “devastating” for the community.
The initial plan was to support the burned buildings’ walls, but after weeks of assessing fire damage and asbestos, architects and brick masons now believe they aren’t strong enough.

Crews are already preparing to take down the outside walls on the upper floors starting Friday.

Richardson says while the first floor businesses saw little-to-no fire damage, there was significant water damage and they won’t be able to reopen until the upper floors are rebuilt.

Richardson says the walls will be torn down “probably to the bottom of the [second floor] windows, roughly,” in order to “take away the danger of the bricks falling. The walls falling.”

“There’s really not a lot of structural support up there,” said Richardson.

The buildings have been so unstable and unsafe, firefighters still haven’t been able to go inside to investigate the cause of the fire. And the street below has been closed to cars and pedestrians.

Next door, the Killer Bee Guy and Panterra Gallery only recently got the all-clear: Their building is structurally sound.

“We were able to open a few days ago. Thank goodness,” said ‘Killer Bee Guy’ Reed Booth. “We actually had a table set up on the street with honey… It just wasn’t gonna cut it. It really wasn’t. And so when we found out that we could open the door, turn the lights on and get back to selling honey, huge relief.”

Other business owners on this block tell KGUN they’re ready for the rebuild, even if it means losing a piece of the city’s history.

“We can’t keep the street closed any longer. I have businesses that are closed,” said Bisbee mayor Ken Budge.

As the walls come down this week, all of the bricks will be saved.

“At some point, our hope is that then they will build a structural wall and then they can use those bricks as a fascia to put things back like they were,” said Budge, who thanked the community for their support and for being patient.

The hope is that in about a week, after the initial tear-down, one lane of Main Street can reopen.

Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.