By Mike Linn: CNJ News Editor
Decades of camaraderie and Friday night bingo sessions faded with the smoke and flames that engulfed the second floor of American Legion Post 117 late Wednesday afternoon.
Nobody was in the structure at 1400 W. Seventh St. and firefighters reported no injuries, but the more than 55-year-old building is unsalvageable, Clovis firefighters said.
For hours firefighters attacked the fire with three high-powered water hoses from a variety of angles. But they were unsuccessful in containing the blaze that overtook the building’s second floor and ceiling, where flames snaked through windows and boiled over the roof on the structure’s north side.
“It’s been my second home for a long time,” said former post commander and bingo chairman John Washington, as he watched the mayhem. “It’s been a good one but I think it’s gone. I never thought it would happen here.”
Capt. Karen Burns of the Clovis Fire Department said officials will investigate the cause of the fire and where it started, but had no strong clues Wednesday night.
She said the building experienced heavy fire damage to the second story and heavy smoke damage to the first floor.
Although she could not place a dollar estimate to the damage by 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night, she said the building was one of the older ones in Clovis.
“Being an older building, being a building that they were working on, with the older electrical stuff in it, makes it a susceptible building to problems like we’re facing today,” Burns said.
Washington, a Post 117 member for 38 years, said he first heard about the fire about 4 p.m. Wednesday. “ (I) had all three phones ringing at the same time and they were all saying ‘the Legion’s on fire — get down there, get down there.’”
Sporting a hat bearing an American freedom pin, he watched as everything but the Post 117’s American flag was damaged in the flames.
The Coca Cola sign near the front entrance had fallen from its stand, the roof was on the verge of collapse and the second story windows were camouflaged in brown smoke and orange embers.
The building became the Legion’s Post 117 in 1967, Burns said. Before that Washington said the building was a “garage, a supermarket, a restaurant — everything.”
David Blackmon, watching the fire from the scene, has been a Legion member for five years and said the people he met through Post 117 have provided him with years of good memories.
“When I first got (to Clovis) I didn’t have a place to hang out and socialize … and I found like a family here. We’ve had some good times here,” he said, staring at the building.