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Clothes fire closes store: No injuries in small blaze at JCPenney

Kay Erickson hugs her husband, and JCPenney manager, Doug Erickson, shortly after a fire broke out at the store Friday. No one was injured.1 / 3
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"The best team ever," is how JCPenney manager Doug Erickson described employees while standing near the entrance of the store Friday, as smoke fumed out the doors.

No one was injured in an afternoon fire that forced an evacuation of the store and had some employees manning fire extinguishers while another called 911. Others said they were a little scared.

It was not known as of Friday afternoon how a clothes rack in the men's department caught fire.

"My heart was racing," employee Cora Tormaschy of Dickinson said. "After I saw smoke, I knew it was serious."

Though rattled, she managed to close the doors leading to the rest of Prairie Hills Mall, where the store is an anchor.

The damage is minimal compared to what it could have been -- some merchandise and possibly some of the floor is damaged, Erickson said after the fire was out, but before having a chance to go back in and assess the scene.

He could not put a dollar amount on the loss of merchandise, and he was not sure when the store would reopen. The fire is under investigation.

Soaked and burnt clothes were strewn in front of the building Friday as firefighters set up fans to ventilate the store. Co-workers standing near the entrance talked about the blaze while watching firefighters walk in and out.

Employees said they noticed a rack of clothes was in flames and some of them grabbed fire extinguishers and sprayed it. The flames would subside briefly, but shot right back up. Soon the store was smoke-filled, they said.

"It was two minutes after I heard the word 'fire' and it was completely smoke-filled," Tormaschy said.

Erickson said he was upset about the situation, but glad everyone was safe.

"They handled it like they had done it before," he said.