MALTA – A fire broke out early Wednesday in downtown Malta, destroying a building that housed a weekly newspaper and forcing the evacuation of a nearby motel, authorities said.
Crews from four fire departments in the region were fighting the blaze, worked to prevent it from spreading to buildings on either side, said Phillips County Sheriff Tom Miller. No injuries were reported.
The fire appeared to be contained by midmorning Wednesday, with fire crews shutting down their hoses, Phillips County News reporter John Degel told The Associated Press.
Smoke that covered downtown area lifted, though fire crews were still diverting traffic to another block. The Great Northern Motel, less than 200 feet away from the blaze, was evacuated as a precaution, Miller said.
The fire has destroyed the newspaper’s office and four other businesses in the building, Miller said.
“The ceiling’s gone, the front end’s fallen,” Miller said. “I don’t think there’s going to be anything left of that building.”
The buildings on either side each share a wall with the burned building. Those neighboring businesses, a bar and a department store, reported smoke damage, Degel said.
The fire was reported about 3:45 a.m. by a garbage collector who noticed smoke coming out of the back of the building, Degel said.
The brick building, built around 1920, is owned by the newspaper’s owner and publisher, Curtis Starr. Besides the paper, the building housed a beauty parlor, an appliance store, a variety store and a T-shirt and print shop, Degel said.
The fire is believed to have started in the building’s basement, though the cause is not yet known, Miller said.
Degel said the newspaper was supposed to go to press on Wednesday, but it was not immediately clear whether the staff of six would be able to publish this week’s edition or where the newspaper would operate in the near term.
One possibility is working out of the owner’s basement, he said.
The northeastern town of Malta has a population of about 2,300 people and is about 200 miles north of Billings. At least four other fires have broken out on the same block over the last 50 years or so, Degel said.
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