- Associated Press - Monday, April 6, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A western Wyoming town knocked back by a fire that destroyed a large portion of its downtown last winter is dusting off for tourist season and could begin rebuilding as soon as this summer.

A demolition crew razed two burned buildings in Dubois last week. The integrity of a third is being assessed as the property owner begins to consult with architects and contractors on how to replace the structures.

A fourth building burned has been deemed salvageable.

Dubois, population 1,000, is a fly-fishing and hunting destination between the Absaroka and Wind River ranges about 50 miles east of Grand Teton National Park. The new storefronts will retain the town’s Western flavor, said Reg Phillips, manager of the Wind River Land and Building Co. properties.

“The boardwalks survived the fire just fine,” Phillips said. “No matter what happens, they will still be there.”

The eight businesses destroyed in Dubois (pronounced DOO’-boyce) included an accounting firm, gallery, fly shop and a flea market called The Mart where dozens of people rented space to sell antiques and other items.

Investigators theorize the fire began in dried-out building material next to a stove chimney in the attic of The Mart. An official determination by the buildings’ insurer could take another year but that process shouldn’t hold up reconstruction, Phillips said.

The gaping hole there now is an improvement, said local resident Ellen Jungck.

“It’s good because when the buildings were there it was kind of like, ‘Oh, it’s depressing,’” Jungck said. “There’s a piece of history now that’s gone, so it’s kind of sad. At the same time, I’m glad because we can move forward.”

As firefighters toiled in 20-below cold the night of Dec. 30, townspeople gathered at a bar across the street to watch the spectacle of fire and ice from the water sprayed.

Since then, they’ve pitched in to help the victims. As of early April, a local organization, Needs of Dubois, had raised almost $89,000 and disbursed around $72,000 toward the bills of affected business owners.

“We basically cover daily survival needs,” said Jungck, president of the nonprofit. “As people lost their income, we’re covering food, gas, medical expenses, utilities, rent.”

St. Thomas Episcopal Church has raised almost $78,000, more than a quarter of that from a Valentine’s Day fundraiser, to help business owners recoup lost inventory, parish administrator Mary Ellen Honsaker said.

“They, of course, were expecting nothing, because they didn’t have insurance,” she said Monday. “We’ve had an awful lot of thanks and tears, so that’s been good.”

Nobody was hurt in the fire.

Traffic over Togwotee Pass northwest of town will begin picking up once Grand Teton and Yellowstone open for their summer seasons next month. The fly shop destroyed is preparing to reopen elsewhere in town and a new Mexican restaurant also will be opening up, Mayor Twila Blakeman said.

“I think we’ll be ready for the tourists when they come this summer, and we’ll have plenty of businesses that will serve them,” she said.

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Follow Mead Gruver at https://twitter.com/meadgruver

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