December 18, 2013 | Vol.53 N.50

Lake Conner Grocery fire causes over $200K in damages

The quaint and neighborly Lake Conner Grocery store on the corner of Hartford Rd. and Machias in Lake Stevens received extensive fire and smoke damage after a fire broke out on Tuesday, Dec. 10 around 8:30 p.m.

A customer in the store alerted the cashier Miah, 21, to the fire. Miah was also working when the store was robbed this summer.

"She was not aware the store was on fire. She heard a loud explosion and searched the store investigating the source of the explosion," Kris Bitnes said. "She quickly called 911 and shut off the gas before safely exiting the store."

Chad and Kris Bitnes the operating owners of the grocery store, purchased the property in 1995.

Lake Stevens Fire Marshal Robert Marshall explained that the explosion noises the cashier heard were both the compressor and spray cans imploding.

"They (firefighters) discovered that the lean-to storage shed, which contained two compressors that run the refrigerator units, had exploded," Marshall said. "The popping sounds were spray cans imploding because of the heat."

When firefighters arrived they saw that the shed was fully engulfed.

"They did do a saw cut where the ceiling meets the exterior wall - they cut out about a foot to ensure it hadn't gotten into the attic space," Marshall explained. "It is looking towards electrical in nature at least at this point. The investigation is still in progress."

"I was told if the antique signs that Chad collects were not covering the back windows that the store would've surely been a complete loss since they were a firewall from the fire spreading further during the explosion," Kris said.

The store will take at least six to eight weeks to repair but thankfully no one was hurt.

"Our main focus is to take care of our wonderful employees and customers. We will be working diligently to reopen as soon as possible," Bitnes said. "The compressors, the shed, back wall, refrigeration, roof and inventory need to be replaced. There was extensive smoke damage inside the store, which is one of our greater obstacles along with restoring refrigeration."

Firefighters from Getchell to Granite Falls and Lake Stevens all helped to keep the flames to a minimum.

"They did an outstanding job not allowing it to spread into the store," Marshall said. "They have to look at some of the upper structure of the building because of the heat penetration. Seventy-five to 80 percent of the product will have to be trashed. Anything edible is gone when there is a fire."

The operating owners are grateful for all of the hard work of local firefighters and look forward to rebuilding this landmark grocery store.

"I would like to thank the Lake Stevens Fire department, Getchell and the Granite Falls Fire departments for their quick response and their professionalism extinguishing the fire. They saved a historical store. Inside we proudly display photos of the store from 1929," she said. "We look forward to rebuilding and serving our fantastic customers who have been so supportive in our time of need. It really is a neighborhood store where community draws together."

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