10/18/2013 11:01 EDT | Updated 12/18/2013 05:12 EST

New Westminster neighbours rally after destructive fire

Business owners in New Westminster are banding together to help neighbours who lost their own businesses in a fire that destroyed half a city block in a historic downtown area last week.

The fire started in the morning on Oct. 10 and destroyed two wood-frame buildings on Columbia St., including the E.L. Lewis building that once housed the Copp's family shoe store.

About a dozen businesses, including a restaurant, a bridal shop and a specialty paint store, were damaged or destroyed in the fire.

Harm Woldring, vice president of the New Westminster Business Improvement Association and owner of The Wine Factory, located just down the street from the badly-damaged block, said there are a number of small business owners now in financial distress.

He said other businesses in the area are committed to helping their neighbours get back on their feet.

"There are several different fundraising efforts in place," he said. "[At this wine store,] we've said any order we sell to anyone until the end of the month, five dollars from that order are going towards a fund for people who need help."

Woldring nearly lost six hundred batches of wine to heat damage during the fire, but says that a 125-year-old stone fire wall protected his stock from destruction.

"This wall is three-foot thick solid granite and concrete. It survived the great new Westminster Fire of 1898, when the whole of downtown burned down," he said.

Similarly, the owner of Sposa Wedding World, Samira Astifo, said she will be helping a bride who lost her dress when the dress shop across the street, Golden Brides, was destroyed in the fire.

Concerns over contamination

On Friday, the fire site investigation was expected to be concluded, but the city said it would be a few weeks before the area is cleared of debris due to concerns over possible contaminated materials.

New Westminster City Coun. Jaimie McEvoy said officials still haven't determined the cause of the fire, and the city is asking anyone who had information or images of the fire to come forward.

"If anyone has any video, particularly about the early stages of the fire or rapid spread of the fire, that kind of information, video or photographs would be helpful to police and firefighters looking into this," he said.