Saturday, May 18, 2013 ~ By JARED JERNAGAN and JOYCE ORLANDO, Banner Graphic writer
A downtown blaze occupied much of Friday morning for Greencastle and other area firefighters.A total of 97 emergency responders from 18 agencies helped fight a fire that damaged approximately half of a city block on Washington Street.
At 7:21 a.m. Putnam County Dispatch received a call of heavy smoke coming from the backs of buildings on the southwest corner of Washington and Vine streets.
When all was said and done, flames or smoke were seen from buildings covering the east half of the block. Greencastle Fire Chief Bill Newgent said that all buildings east of Eli’s Books were affected in some way.
Those damaged businesses include Wilson’s Photography, Wilson Formal Wear and Buzz Bomb Graphics; the Pawn Store; Dr. Perry Wainman DDS; and Greencastle Furniture.
No serious injuries were reported in the incident.
Arriving on the scene shortly after the dispatch, firefighters quickly knocked down the fire in its initial location — the second-floor patio area on the back of the Pawn Store.However, they soon discovered the blaze had spread beyond its initial location.
Much of the morning went this way for firefighters — things would appear under control only to flare up again.
Newgent said having to switch between offensive and defensive firefighting is not ideal, but the responders did what they had to do.
“You always hope you can get there and make a good knockdown,” Newgent said. “The construction of these kinds of buildings makes it more difficult. You will get hidden spaces between walls and in attics.”
The chief commended the firefighters for their aggressive work that likely saved the block from much more extensive damage.
“Hats off to all these firefighters who came here today and to my guys,” Newgent said. “Once we got it knocked down, they were in there and stopped that fire.”
He said this method of fighting aggressively from the inside of the building goes much further limiting the damage of a fire.
“If you’re shooting water from the outside, you’re really waiting for it to burn through something,” Newgent said.
Through the morning, more and more firefighters arrived on the scene, providing both manpower and equipment to the effort.Other county departments included Bainbridge, Cloverdale, Clinton Township, Fillmore, Floyd Township, Madison Township, Reelsville and Roachdale.
From outside the county, Crawfordsville, Brazil, Danville and Plainfield all provided assistance, such as additional aerial trucks for battling the fire from above.
At around 10 a.m. the smoke died down significantly and flames were no longer visible from outside the buildings.
As of 10:20 a.m., Newgent told the Banner Graphic the fire was under control and firefighters were moving into the extensive overhaul phase of the operation.
Greencastle Police, Putnam County Sheriff’s deputies and Indiana State Police provided traffic and crowd control. In spite of the police presence, traffic in downtown was a mess at times, with large trucks attempting to travel narrow city streets rather than bypassing on South Jackson Street and Veterans Highway.
Several blocks of Washington Street and its cross streets remained blocked off into the afternoon as the overhaul and investigation stages of the operation continued.
The outcome of the investigation is inconclusive, although Newgent said there was nothing suspicious about the origin of the fire.
The fire definitely started in the patio area on the second floor of the Pawn Store. A description of what one witness saw and heard is consistent with an electrical fire in the ceiling.
This possibility is further supported by the presence of a ceiling fan on the porch. However, the scene lacks conclusive evidence, as it burned up in the fire.
The roof over the Pawn Store and Wainman’s office was destroyed, as were the insides of the second floors of these buildings. The lower levels sustained smoke and heavy water damage.
In the Wilson building to the east and the Trudy and Greg Selvia-owned building to the west, the problems were contained to mostly water and smoke damage.
Joe Garrison, who owns Greencastle Furniture on the first floor of the Selvia building, said the inventory in his store can be replaced.
“I don’t care,” Garrison said. “I’m just glad nobody was hurt. That’s 100 percent of what matters.”
In Eli’s Books and Starbucks on the west end of the block, there was no evidence of damage of any sort.
“I didn’t even really smell smoke when we were in there,” Newgent said.
Newgent and Assistant Chief Jeff Mace estimated damages to be in the range of $1 million to $1.5 million.
Firefighters were also assisted at the scene by Putnam County Operation Life, ensuring the health of the firefighters.
“We were fortunate,” Operation Life Executive Director Kraig Kinney said. “We were mostly doing rehab stuff — monitoring vital signs just to make sure the firefighters were staying healthy.”
Red Cross volunteers were also on the scene to assist the firefighters and victims, setting up shop at the Masonic Temple. They distributed food and drink donated by local businesses to the many responders at the scene.
City utility and public works employees, as well as Vectren and Duke also provided support.
Duke shut down power to several blocks for a time Friday morning so that firefighters could safely put water on the buildings. Power was later restored to all but the affected block.
As of 3 p.m., the fire department had turned the scene back over to the owners. A crew from 1-800-BOARDUP provided weather proofing for the buiilding.
Even with the heavy damage, all involved appeared to be counting their blessings that no one was hurt and the fire did not spread further.
Newgent again credited the firefighters for this.
“They were aggressive and did a wonderful job.”