Tomah Fire battles business blaze for 12 hours Businesses and tenants band together with strengthened bond


On Friday, February 23rd, at 5:17 p.m., the Tomah Fire Department was summoned to a structure fire, at 1102 Superior Avenue. The business building belonged to Sassy Girl Aroma, a family-owned candle store. Over one-million gallons of water was needed to subdue the inferno, and eventually the entire building had to be pulled down. While there are further investigations that will be undertaken, the Herald was able to interview Tomah Fire Chief, Tim Adler, and neighboring business owner, Ann Schleicher, owner of Sacred Space.

Tomah Fire Chief, Tim Adler, has been fighting fires for 35 years, in the city of Tomah. On the Friday night fire, Adler said, “We know where the area of origin is. It was in 1102 Superior [Sassy Girl Aroma]. We ended up pulling in an excavator last night. We basically pulled the whole scene apart, in order to get the fire completely out. That pretty much ruins any opportunity to be able to go in there and be definitive on the cause.”

Chief Adler then explained that there can never be speculation or guessing on the cause of a blaze; that investigations must prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, what caused the fire. “We have ideas, but we will need to talk with the owners, to see what they had in that area that may have caused the fire.”

Adler then informed the Herald that the fire occurred in the garage, behind the building. “Right back by the alley, that’s where the fire initiated. We just could not get that fire out. We kept putting water on it, and putting water on it, and putting water on it … it just would not go out. That is why we called in the excavator, to pull everything down and we just sunk it all, pushing it into the fully-flooded basement. Then the fire finally went out.”

How They Keep Going

When pressed by the Herald on how Chief Adler and his crew are able to keep up the strenuous task of fighting fires, with the physical toll, heat, smoke, and stress, Adler had a few answers. “For the majority of the time, we run on adrenalin,” Adler started explaining. “Then there are the reinforcements that we can draw on. When I was able to assess what kind of fire we had, I was able to call on mutual aid.” Adler then explained that Fort McCoy is Automatic Aid, and reports to any confirmed structure fire in Tomah. “With mutual aid, I personally asked for an engine from Oakdale and one from the Town of Lincoln, and they came immediately. I realized that we still did not have enough resources here, so then I called a MABAS Box Card 3.”

What is MABAS?

MABAS is an acronym for Mutual Aid Box Alarm System. As explained by Chief Adler, MABAS is a prearranged box-card system, with designations 1 through 5. Chief Adler was able to call into the Monroe County 911 Dispatch and just tell them that he needed a Box Card 3. “Then I knew I was getting four ladder trucks, X amount of ambulances, and X amount of engine companies. I called them and said, ‘Strike a Box Card 3,’ and I had Mauston, New Lisbon, Hixton, Elroy, West Salem. They all came to assist us in battling the fire.”

Chief Adler explained that there is a staging officer, who lines all the supporting help up. Then directs them when they are needed and where to go. “Usually we stage them all in a huge parking lot, but we do not have a lot of those, so we just closed down Superior Avenue and staged them there,” Adler remarked.

Adler then went on to inform the Herald that part of Box Card 3 was to have another fire company, in this case Black River Falls, come and sit in Tomah’s fire department, to protect Tomah, in case of another fire breaking out, while Tomah Fire was fighting the blaze at 1102 Superior Avenue. “We do the same things for them, and everybody else,” Adler added.

In the post-blaze interview, Chief Adler stated that this fire was the first time that Tomah ever had to utilize MABAS. “We review the MABAS cards every year, to make sure we make the changes that need to be made, always improving. It worked really well.”

There were a total of 88 people fighting the fire. “We ended up dumping a million gallons of water on it,” Adler stated. “At 1 p.m. we had the fire under control. Then we went into overhaul stage, where we picked away at the corners and made sure that we soaked everything down. There are always hotspots, and we have to make sure that they are all taken care of.”

“It was a long night,” Adler told the Herald. “I have a couple of guys in their 70s in my department, and they were all there last night, for the entire time.”

The Sacred Neighbors

While physical and mental energies were focused on the inferno engulfing 1102 Superior Avenue, the neighbors at 1104 Superior Avenue also suffered a devastating destruction. The business is Sacred Space, and the Herald had been there just a couple weeks earlier, talking with owner, Ann Schleicher, about the monies her nonprofit, Treasured Chests, had just raised for several entities that help local women in their fight against breast cancer.

As can be expected from the inhabitants of Monroe County, Ann’s immediate focus of concern was on others that were affected by the tragic loss of business and home. “Friday afternoon my heart broke,” Schleicher started out. “It broke for my wonderful neighbor, Julie, from Sassy Girl Aroma. I watched their incredibly hard work over the previous year, to turn that building into their business. They suffered such a tragedy over the winter, and now this. Watching their hard work turn into rubble … it just carries immense sadness.”

Schleicher also had tenants living above her business. She stated, “My heart also broke for my tenants and my other neighbors. My tenants didn't just lose their place to live, they lost their job because they were also working for Sacred Space. I was numb.”

Ann Schleicher reached out to the Herald, expressing her gratefulness for those who have reached out to her already. “The outpouring of community support has been amazing! Not just the Tomah community, but from all over. I cannot express how grateful I am and how grateful every person affected is. This is what humanity is all about! We still have a lot of work to do and still need support, but we are off to an amazing start.”

As more on the story breaks, the Herald will print updates. For now, Ann Schleicher has provided the following avenues to give help, as well as a short description on those in need of that help. “We are taking donations of all kinds (not monetary), at 1018 Kilbourn Avenue, in Tomah. Please drop off at the garage, which is located on Woodard.
Here are sites that you can donate to as well. We all thank you.

- Bobbi Cook - single mom of three -

- JJ and Haley - new parents to Kairi (born this winter) –
- Dustin and Amanda - Dustin was a Sacred Space employee. Amanda was just laid off from Meca last week. Amanda has an 11-year-old daughter -
- Kelsey and Tom - Kelsey also worked at Sacred Space. They have three

children. -

- Sassy Girl Aroma - Julie just lost her son this winter and now lost

   her business. -

- Jeff and Ann Schleicher - Owners of Sacred Space. Jeff lost his job due to plant closure and Ann's job was operating Sacred Space –
- Ho-Chunk Nation Museum - their business was damaged by water - You can donate through Venmo - @ho-chunknationmuseum

  Ann Schleicher ended the interview by expressing her gratitude for Tomah and the amazing people that make up the incredible community. “If people have any questions, they can call me personally, at 608-343-6704, or email me at 
They may send a message to my personal Facebook page [Ann Schleicher] if they have
questions or want to donate and need further direction.” Schleicher stated that they will be organizing places for cash donations, which will be divided up between the businesses and tenants. She informed the Herald that there will also be a fundraiser in the near future.

Benny Mailman, Finding 42, Tomah Fire, Sacred Space, Sassy Girl Aroma, Tomah Fire Department, Tim Adler, Chief Adler,


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