7:17 p.m.: The first of the flames at the Michael and Dowd building. (Photos by Mandy Kakac)

7:18 p.m.

By Dean Close, Editor

As the wife of Garrison volunteer fireman Eric Kakac, Mandy Kakac knows more than most the urgent need for being aware of, and following, fire safety rules.

And as one of the witnesses to the first moments of Thursday’s historic downtown fire, Mandy is also offering a powerful fire safety reminder.

She and Eric were downtown in Vinton after 7 p.m. Thursday, looking over some possible building rental sites. They heard the sirens of Vinton police cars passing by, and then looked outside and saw the smoke.

They were also among the first to see the ball of flames shooting from the building, first from the back of the store along 1st Ave., and then a minute later, from the front window that faces Fourth Street.

“I’d like to share how quickly the fire spread,” says Mandy. “The first 3 images were all taken within a 2-minute time frame. The fourth image was taken only 7 minutes after the first. Look how big of a difference there is with the flames. The purpose of my Facebook post was to hopefully bring fire safety awareness so people can truly understand how a building can be engulfed in flames so quickly that you don’t have time to grab things — you just have  get out.”

7:19 p.m.

7:24 p.m.: Garrett Wittmer and Dave Morrow hook up a firehose as VFD members prepare to begin fighting the fire.

Eric Kacak and other members of the Garrison and Vinton fire departments sprang into action, helping to prepare the hydrants. Eric also called Garrison Fire Chief Steve Meyer to inform him they would be soon getting a call to help.  Eric joined Vinton fireman Chris Staab, along with Dave Morrow and Garrett Wittmer, to get the hoses ready. Staab had a hydrant wrench in his vehicle, which enabled the men to help the firefighters more quickly connect the hoses and begin spraying the building.

“There were quite a few guys downtown that were or currently are on a fire department who stepped up until Vinton Fire Department got there,” Mandy said.

The most important lesson, says Mandy, is the time stamp on the photos. Her first photo shows flames shooting out the back of the store at 7:17 p.m. A minute later, at 7:18, a fireball was shooting flames out a front window. By the time the VFD hoses were hooked up at 7:24, the entire building was engulfed.

Mandy explained the fire and photo progression:

Eric Kakac of the Garrison FD climbs a ladder to fight the fire as it spread to Clingman Pharmacy.

“I am sharing these pictures to bring to light just how quickly a fire can spread and why it is so important to get out when something catches fire in your house or business. We were downtown at the beginning of the fire. The first image taken was at 7:17. You can see the flames coming out the back door. The second picture was taken at 7:18 with the flames bursting through the front window. The third image was taken at 7:19 with flames climbing up and out of the building. The fourth picture was taken at 7:24 and look how the fire has progressed.”

Mandy notes how the building was engulfed in less than 10 minutes.

“That is only a 7-minute difference between the first and fourth picture,” she says. “Thankfully there was nobody inside any of these buildings. This is scary. Please take fire safety seriously and talk to your family about what to do in case of a fire.”

“Our community is devastated by the fire that happened last night but our community is strong and we will all lift each other up through this,” says Mandy.