Tomahawk community rallies in support after fire destroys Nacho’s, Century 21
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
TOMAHAWK – After a fire destroyed a pair of downtown Tomahawk businesses last week, the community rallied in support of those affected.
Within hours of the blaze, in which Nacho’s Mexican Grill and Century 21 Best Way Realty were lost, donations of clothing, gift cards, essential items and more poured in.
According to a release from the Tomahawk Fire Department (TFD), on Thursday, Nov. 2, at approximately 6:07 a.m., the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office dispatched the department to Nacho’s Mexican Grill, located at 22 W. Wisconsin Ave., for a report of a structure fire.
The department’s initial response included Engine 3, Engine 5 and Rescue 1, as well as Tomahawk EMS. Automatic aid was requested from the Nokomis Fire Department for a full response.
“The first arriving engine company began an aggressive interior attack, but soon found significant extension of the fire throughout the structure and into the roof,” TFD said. “While firefighters worked to contain the fire, it soon spread to the adjacent Century 21 Realty building.”
Utilizing the Mutual Aid Box Alarm System (MABAS), the incident was elevated to the box level, bringing engines from the Towns of Pine River, Russell, Crescent and Little Rice, as well as an aerial truck from the Merrill Fire Department.
TFD explained that as the size and complexity of the fire grew, additional resources were brought in through MABAS, with the incident being elevated up to the third level.
Aerial trucks from Merrill and Rhinelander were utilized for fire suppression for the roof and areas that were not safe for firefighters to access.
“Working with the Tomahawk Public Works Department, it was quickly determined that the amount of water being required for the fire ground operations was beginning to tax the city’s water supply,” TFD said. “A water tender operation was established, utilizing the boat landing at SARA Park for a fill site. Given the volume of water needed to support the fire ground operations, a strike team of tenders was requested to respond from MABAS Division 130 (Marathon County).”
More than 250,000 gallons of water were utilized from the hydrant system and 60,000-plus gallons of water were used from the tender operations, according to TFD.
More than 15 agencies responded to the scene, including fire departments from Nokomis, Pine River, Hazelhurst, Merrill, Crescent, Cassian, Little Rice, Minocqua, Rhinelander, Corning, Russell and Maine, Tomahawk EMS, Taylor County EMS-Rib Lake, the Tomahawk Police Department, the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, Lincoln County Emergency Management, the Tomahawk Public Works Department and a strike team of tenders from MABAS Division 130.
The Lincoln County Highway Department, Packaging Corporation of America (PCA) and Schoone Construction provided fuel trucks to supply the numerous engines committed to operations. Mr. Ed’s Excavating provided an excavator to remove debris and allow firefighters to fully extinguish the fire.
Retired Tomahawk firefighters also responded to offer assistance.
TFD said all of the occupants from the apartments above the restaurant were able to make it out of the building before firefighters arrived. Several occupants later sought medical treatment for possible smoke inhalation.
One firefighter was transported by Tomahawk EMS to Aspirus Tomahawk Hospital for minor injuries, according to TFD.
Firefighters remained on scene into the afternoon hours of Thursday, Nov. 2.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The Wisconsin Department of Justice Fire Marshal’s Office is assisting TFD.
TFD Chief Paul Winter thanked the Tomahawk community for “the outpouring of support” during the incident.
“Numerous businesses and citizens donated food and refreshments for the firefighters working on the scene,” Winter stated. “At times like this, we realize what a close-knit community we have, going above and beyond to support one another.”
Community rallies in support
Four adults and two children who lived above Nacho’s Mexican Grill lost all of their belongings in last week’s blaze.
Shortly after word of the fire began to spread throughout the community and on social media, the Tomahawk Regional Chamber of Commerce got to work to help out the Vasquez family and owner Nacho Fuentes.
Donation bins and a card box were placed outside the back door of the Chamber building, where clothing, gift cards, financial contributions and more were collected.
WJJQ, Tomahawk BP, Tomahawk Child Care, Tomahawk Builders Supply, Tomahawk Pharmacy, Tomahawk Main Street Inc., Up North Nutrition, Bowman Chiropractic and St. Mary’s School also chipped in by collecting donated items.
By Thursday afternoon, six SUVs’ worth of clothing, bedding and essential items had been collected.
“We are extremely proud of this community for showing up for these wonderful people,” the Chamber stated.
Monetary donations and gift cards are still being accepted at locations throughout Tomahawk, and a fund has been set up at Crossbridge Community Bank.
Fuentes noted that another way to show support is to patron his restaurants located in Rhinelander and Minocqua.
“We want to thank you all for your displays of unity towards us and our affected families, thank you for every message, every call, every article of clothing and help in general, but above all we thank you for your prayers because that is when the majority need it,” a post on Nacho’s Mexican Grill’s Facebook page said. “We do not have the appropriate or precise words to say how grateful we are to everyone, thank God we are safe, which is the most important thing. It is heartbreaking to see how all your work and dreams disappear in front of you and you cannot do anything. It is helplessness. But we trust in God that we will get out of this and soon we will be resurrected and stronger than ever. We also thank God for having placed us in this very supportive community, because without your support, we would not get out of this.”
Nacho’s also thanked the firefighters and other emergency services personnel who responded to the scene and “and gave their soul to put out the fire and risked their lives.”
“We are eternally grateful,” the post stated. “We know that with the support of all of you, we will soon have a Nacho’s Mexican Grill Tomahawk back.”
Century 21 moves into new temporary office
Century 21 Best Way Realty has moved into a temporary office space at 119 W. Wisconsin Ave., just across the street from its previous location.
Owner Andrea Krueger, on behalf of her family and staff, thanked the emergency services departments that responded to the fire.
“Thank you to Randy’s Bambinos and What’s Brewin’ for bringing food for all the workers,” Krueger said in a Facebook post. “We are so glad my neighbors are all safe.”
Krueger added that she is “so blessed with so many friends, community members and family that have reached out.”
“My staff and family are so grateful for all of you,” Krueger stated.