Four-alarm fire destroys several businesses inside Bywater building

The scene was frantic in the Bywater Saturday afternoon, when business owner Blake Vonder Haar saw flames rising from a two-story warehouse that houses several of her shops.

Vonder Haar said she was outside at the time and tried to run in to fight the fire, but it was too intense.

"Things were starting to pop and snap and I was just afraid the building was going to explode," she said. "So, we just got out and within moments, the building was fully engulfed. It happened so fast."

Minutes later, firefighters arrived to find a massive inferno, which quickly grew to four alarms.

New Orleans Fire Department Supt. Tim McConnell said crews immediately attacked the building's interior, but had to pull back as the roof began to collapse.

"The owner discovered the fire and said she saw fire blowing out of a vent up on the second floor. It's just been difficult to get our arms around, to get under control," McConnell said.

Finally, after battling intense heat from the fire and the hot July afternoon, firefighters were able to knock the flames down.

Just an hour before the fire began, crowds gathered at the warehouse for a pet adoption event.

"It's a god send that it happened when it did and not an hour earlier when there were so many people in the building. We were really lucky. So, nobody was hurt. None of the dogs were hurt," Vonder Haar said.

But inside the still-smoldering warehouse, she imagined complete devastation for her businesses.

Vonder Haar sells pet and art supplies and runs an art school and gallery inside the building.

"Looks like it's a total loss. So, all the artwork, or a lot of the artwork, is probably destroyed. We're going to rebuild and start over at some point. So, we just need to find a new location to do that, and come up with a plan. But right now I'm just kind of numb. We have to see what we have," she said. "It's 20 years of my life, you know. It's pretty tough. It's kind of unbelievable. Seems like a dream."

NOFD officials said it's unclear what sparked the fire, but an investigation is underway.

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