Saskatoon's Mendel Art Gallery opened in 1964. ((CBC))

After fire and smoke caused at least $10,000 damage to the Mendel Art Gallery Monday, gallery officials were assessing whether there was any damage to its $16-million collection.

Firecrews were called to the building,Saskatoon's best-known art gallery, shortlybefore 3 a.m. Heavy smoke was coming from the rear loading dock door of the facility.

Crews had to break through a door to get to the loading area.

The fire was contained in about 15 minutes, after whichcrews spent another 90 minutes ventilating the building. The Saskatoon fire department said smoke may have damaged the artworks and paintings in the front half of the building.

A fire investigator said combustible material stored near a heater in the loading dock was to blame for the fire.A gallery spokesperson said the area was used for storage because of a chronic shortage of space.

In July, gallery director Terry Graff called for an $18-million upgrade to the buildingbecause the lack of proper climate controls was putting the gallery's collection at risk.

Among the works that were developing small cracks or beginning to warp were a Lawren Harris painting worth an estimated $2 million and a canvas by early Saskatchewan artist James Henderson.

On Monday, Mendel board chair Wade Heggie saidhe doesn't believe the fire will hurt the gallery's ability to attract exhibits.

"It's never good PR, but hopefully I don't think it will affect our reputation in any way," he said. "We have a very good national reputation and I'm sure that this will be just a little blip in the whole scene."

None of the artworks at the gallery burned. The biggest concern now is possible damage to the collection from smoke and water.