VALPARAISO | An attempt to determine the cause of the fire that destroyed the building at 204 Lincolnway will have to wait until demolition of the east wall of the building is completed.
The demolition began Thursday and is expected to take several days, city officials said. The proximity to the Sievers Insurance building next door means it will have to be dismantled almost brick by brick. Assistant Fire Chief Dan Lamb said he probably will be able to begin digging for the building's boiler by Tuesday.
"I originally thought (the starting point of the fire) might have been on the first floor, but it's turning out to be the basement," Lamb said. "I learned in interviews with (firefighters) on the first run of heavy fire in the basement."
He had workmen for G.E. Marshall, the company doing the demolition, move most of the debris away from the boiler, but the wall will provide a new layer of rubble to dig through.
"It's really a mess over there," Lamb said. "I kind of feel insignificant with all the debris lying around. The boiler has flooring on it. I didn't want it all off because they will be throwing bricks down."
The fire was called in at 1:30 a.m. Monday, and firefighters were at the scene dousing hot spots until about noon Tuesday, when Lincolnway was reopened to traffic. Michigan Street remains closed for the cleanup.
Lamb said insurance investigators were warned to get away from the scene Thursday because of the danger of falling bricks and the presence of two feet of water in the basement. Gas and electric service reportedly was back on for the surrounding businesses by Thursday.
"The snow didn't help because it covered things up," he said. "I wish we could get through one winter without a big fire."
According to fire department records, the city has had at least one major fire every winter dating back to at least 2009 with the Central Elementary School fire. That one was reported at 9:41 p.m. Jan. 23, and the temperature was 10 degrees. Other winter fires included:
- Dec. 30, 2009 - a fire in an apartment building at 1808 Chicago St. burned through the roof. Reported at 8:42 a.m., the temperature was 28 degrees.
- Jan. 13, 2010 - an overheated fireplace at 4413 Masters Road caused a fire that was called in at 9:22 p.m. with 26-degree temperatures.
- Feb. 20, 2011 - a busy day that started with a fire at 1:15 a.m. at 297 W. Joliet Road. The temperature was 28, and the house was destroyed when the fire went undetected for some time. At 9 that evening, a second fire was reported at 502 Union St. in the basement of an apartment. The temperature had dipped to 25.
- Nov. 16, 2011 - winter hadn't started yet but the temperature was 36 when firefighters were called at 12:47 p.m. to a fire in a condo at 2923 Foggy Glen.
- Dec. 20, 2011 - on winter's eve, the Applebee's restaurant at 670 Morthland Dive was damaged by fire that started about 11:45 p.m. The temperature again was 36.
Lamb said he didn't know if he will be able to find the cause of this week's fire because of the demolition that had to be done to prevent the walls from falling onto the street or nearby buildings. He didn't know if other insurance investigators also will examine the site.