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Exchange reopens days after destructive fire

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Air Force firefighters battle a blaze Feb. 21 that destroyed the exchange, barbershop, gift and coffee shop at Kandahar, Afghanistan. The blaze also destroyed the personal living quarters of 25 Army and Air Force Exchange Service employees. Damage costs are estimated at more than $1 million.  (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Cory Angell)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Air Force firefighters battle a blaze Feb. 21 that destroyed the exchange, barbershop, gift and coffee shop at Kandahar, Afghanistan. The blaze also destroyed the personal living quarters of 25 Army and Air Force Exchange Service employees. Damage costs are estimated at more than $1 million. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Cory Angell)

OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM (AFPN) -- Air Force firefighters battled a blaze here Feb. 21 that destroyed the exchange, barbershop, gift and coffee shop plus the personal living quarters of 25 Army and Air Force Exchange Service employees at Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Also damaged was the morale, welfare and recreation computer, movie and telephone tents.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Air Force firefighters were concerned about containing the fire that was heading toward a diesel fuel bladder and other critical buildings.

Fierce winds, measured at about 25 mph at the time of the fire, and the confined space around the exchange compound made saving any part of the building difficult.

"We went to the back and the wind was blowing toward us," said Airman 1st Class Charvis Kali Gordan, a firefighter. "We got there and there was debris, ash, pitch black smoke and my eyes were burning even with my mask on. My helmet started burning up a little bit so I knew it was hot."

The fire, which took five water trucks, bulldozers and 20 firefighters to contain, destroyed 90 percent of AAFES food at the base as well as all its stock on the shelves. The damage estimate, according to Scott Curran, AAFES field accountant, is more than $1 million.

Curran, like the other 24 AAFES employees, lost everything in the blaze including his clothing and bed plus irreplaceable items like photographs, he said. The employees are staying in temporary lodging, and officials at AAFES headquarters are currently looking at recouping employees' losses.

But despite personal losses, Curran and other employees concentrated first on getting a temporary exchange open for business. It opened Feb. 23. Also open for business is a new barbershop and gift shop.

Plans are already in the works on a new exchange located just yards from the site of the previous one, behind the base gym. Officials expect the project to be completed in the next seven to eight weeks.

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