Blaze consumes Cloquet Home Center

by Wendy Johnson and Lisa Baumann Pine Journal Life - amazingly - goes on this week for Cloquet Home Center co-owners Tom Wallin and Bob Goewey following a devastating fire that leveled their business last Friday. "We're still open and still carr...

by Wendy Johnson and

Lisa Baumann

Pine Journal

Life - amazingly - goes on this week for Cloquet Home Center co-owners Tom Wallin and Bob Goewey following a devastating fire that leveled their business last Friday.

"We're still open and still carrying on with business and taking care of contractor needs," said Wallin on Tuesday. "We are conducting our business on a limited scale at Cloquet Recycling at the moment, though we don't have nails, nuts or bolts. We're going to get storage trailers and a job site trailer next week and are planning on doing the best we can at this time to serve everybody's needs."


Wallin said the two are already making plans to rebuild and added they look forward to having the community enjoy a "better and newer store."

The block-long complex at 1100 Industry Avenue that housed the Cloquet Home Center business operations contained contracting and home improvement supplies at the time it caught fire Friday afternoon, filling the surrounding downtown Cloquet area with clouds of black smoke as flames from the blaze licked high into the air.

According to Cloquet Fire Department Captain Steve Kolodge, the call about the fire came in at approximately 4:20 p.m. the afternoon of Friday, March 30. In addition to Cloquet, other fire departments responding to the scene included Perch Lake and Esko. Carlton firefighters covered calls for Cloquet while they were battling the blaze, which burned on into the evening. Kolodge estimated crews were on the scene until about 10:30 p.m. on Friday and then returned for two to three hours on Saturday to put out hot spots that had reemerged.

Kolodge said the flammable materials contained inside the building, like dry lumber and paint, fed the fire - as did the strong wind that was blowing that afternoon.

"The one thing that hampered us was that sustained wind," Kolodge said. "That east wind just acted like a big fan."

No one was injured in the fire, and the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

"It is yet to be determined," reported Kolodge on Tuesday. "We're still awaiting some results."

There had been some speculation that a downed power line had caused the blaze, but Kolodge said it was a feeder line that probably fell when the wall it was connected to came down.


The locally owned and operated Cloquet Home Center business has been a staple in the Cloquet community for the past 12 years under Wallin's and Goewey's ownership, though the building itself has been owned by a home center business since 1980. Prior to that, Wallin said it was lumber yard and hardware store, and before that it housed the Cloquet Co-op feed and coal business.

"I'm not sure exactly how old the original building was," said Wallin, "but the newest part was built in the late '60s."

Though the emotional loss resulting from the fire was great, Wallin and Goewey have managed to get their feet right back on the ground - with a little help from their friends.

"If you think you're alone, you're not - and that's why we're able to do what we're doing," said Wallin. "I had people offer office space for free temporarily, and without that support, where would we be? I had the Catholic Church call me up and offer anything they could do and business people have come forward. How do I accept that on this end? It's just overwhelming. I can't put it all into words. I'm so grateful for the place where we're located - and that goes for everybody here."

Fortunately, Wallin said at the time of the fire they had their business from the computer system backed up, which they did it every night as a routine part of their business, and that will allow them to keep moving forward, even though their building has been destroyed.

In the meantime, he said their phones are ringing and the store phone number is still operating.

"All seven of my employees are still working," said Wallin. "We want to take care of square one and our customers, and it will be business as usual as much as possible."

"I would like to thank everybody for the support we've received since the fire," commented Wallin. "The support from the community has been tremendous - just the willingness to help and the offers of whatever people have to make our lives easier. The contractors and the people who have come out and said they're going to do business with a local operation are overwhelming. That's why we live in this community. We're still one of those places in America that is truly a community, a family. Sometimes you don't figure that out until there's a tragedy."


The Duluth News-Tribune, also a Forum Communications newspaper, contributed information to this story.

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