VALPARAISO | Firefighters are expected to spend another night pouring water into the rubble at 204 Lincolnway after an early morning fire Monday destroyed the century-old building.
Although the walls were knocked down to prevent them from falling on adjacent buildings or onto Lincolnway, Battalion Chief Mark Taylor said hot spots remain that could flare up and need dousing. The debris from the roof and two inside floors fell into the basement, which made it harder for firefighters to reach the hot spots with water.
Taylor said he had flashbacks to the Highland department store fire in February 1996 that the Fire Department had to watch for a week because of flare-ups. He said he hoped this one would be out in a day or two.
"The snowstorm could be a blessing," Taylor said of the predicted winter storm slated to hit the area over the next couple of days. He said it could help smother the fire.
Lincolnway was blocked off between Franklin Street and Morgan Boulevard, but the fire drew a steady stream of traffic on Indiana Avenue as people tried to get a glimpse of smoldering building. Many also gathered Monday afternoon to watch as crews started demolition.
The fire was called in about 1:30 a.m. by a passer-by, said Valparaiso Assistant Fire Chief Dan Lamb. Shortly after noon, G.E. Marshall brought in a large backhoe with a battering ram-like device attached to the scoop to knock down the walls while light gray smoke continued to billow and firefighters poured water on the remains through the afternoon.
Lamb said investigators were worried the building could collapse onto traffic or pedestrians, which was why it was being demolished before fire investigators could get in to try to determine the cause.
Lamb said the fire started in in the south end of the building on the first floor. One firefighter was taken to Porter Regional Hospital for smoke inhalation. He was treated and released and back in service by noon, Lamb said.
The need to cut power to the building for firefighter safety also has caused a number of power outages in the downtown area.
At least six businesses were housed in the building, including a tailor, accountant, two counselors, a mortgage company and a bead shop. A barber shop owned by Todd Carpenter had just recently moved out.
The second floor was mostly offices, some of which were vacant, a city official said.
Among those business owners was Joan Rosenbaum, who owns an accounting business. Rosenbaum said she was downtown at the scene of the fire shortly after 2 a.m.
She said she watched as gray smoke poured out of the vents of the building, then, in what she estimated was less than an hour, flames broke through the roof of the building. She praised the work of firefighters, but conceded that it was difficult to watch.
"There's nothing you can do," she said. "You just watch as your livelihood goes up in smoke."
Rosenbaum said she worked in that building since 1980, the last three with her own accounting business. She previously worked for Robert Thormahlen, the building's owner. She lost all of her paper files, she said, but most of her work was backed up electronically off site.
She hopes to be able to start working again from home in about a week. The building's brick walls and the work of firefighters combined to prevent damage to nearby buildings and businesses other than some smoke damage.
Nikki Monacy, who works at Anita's Alterations, asked customers who had clothing items at the shop to call (219) 477-5307. She said the entire shop, along with customer information, was destroyed in the fire.
She said the owner hasn't decided if the business will reopen. Monacy said workers arrived to the scene of the fire about 3 a.m. to find the entire shop destroyed.
"Anita is pretty devastated," she said. "We all are."