Kendalville Fire Destroys Historic Building

By WISE Web News

Credit: Sheryl M. Hawkins Photography

Kendalville Fire Destroys Historic Building


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January 22, 2012 Updated Oct 21, 2013 at 4:39 AM EDT

The following story was provided by KPCNews.

KENDALLVILLE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) — Fire heavily damaged an historic North Main Street apartment building Saturday night.

Firefighters from Orange Township, Albion and Avilla joined Kendallville firefighters in battling the blaze, the frigid temperatures, snow and ice for more than two hours. Flames were visible coming from the roof when the first fire units arrived at the scene shortly after being dispatched at 7:47 p.m., according to Kendallville fire chief Mike Riehm.

Fire spread through the roof into the second story residential area in the building at 328 N. Main St.

Seven people were in a second floor apartment when the fire broke out, five residents and two visitors. Everyone escaped without injury.

“Someone knocked on the door and yelled fire,” said Sean Bailey, who was visiting a friend in the apartment and helping the residents with an electrical problem. “I don’t know who that was, maybe a neighbor.” Bailey and the others fled with only the clothes they were wearing at the time including house slippers, and huddled outside on the sidewalk to keep warm until they moved into a nearby vehicle.

“It was purely defensive,” said Riehm in explaining how firefighters attacked the flames that shot 10 to 12 feet into the air from the building’s roof. It was too dangerous to send firefighters inside. At one point fire hose teams sprayed water on the building from two sides, and another team shot a water stream from the Kendallville Fire Department tower truck.

Riehm credited the use of the tower truck’s 1,000-gallon a minute mass stream of water for helping get the fire under control. “We couldn’t get at it completely from the ground, and we couldn’t put ladders up the side because of the ice,” he said. “The tower truck allowed us to shoot water down on the fire.”

Fire destroyed the roof and damaged the second story, and the main floor received water damage, according to the fire chief.

Bret Reibenbaugh and his girlfriend, Andrea Bontempo, live in a small single story house behind the building. “I was asleep and she was watching TV, when someone pounded on, our door and told us to get out there was a fire.” They left their home with only the clothes they wore and their pet dog.

Firefighters kept the fire from their house but not the water. Reibenbaugh and Bontempo sat in a vehicle keeping warm about an hour and a half into the incident. “They let me go back to my place, and there’s about a foot of water inside,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot. We’re homeless.”

Police closed North Main Street and diverted northbound traffic east onto Mitchell Street and southbound traffic east on Wayne Street.

One resident of the building watched Indiana State police arrest her son at the scene who was wanted on a warrant from Elkhart County for probation violation. “I’ve lost everything, my home, and now my son has been arrested,” she cried.

Indiana State Trooper Justin Snyder said he and trooper John Silver arrived at the location of the fire when the fire call came out to see if they could assist. While there a person brought to their attention a pair of individuals in an alley behind the house. The person said one of the men might have a warrant. When Snyder and Silver approached the men they discovered Stevie E. Gillespie, 20, of Kendallville had a warrant out of Elkhart County. While placing him in custody police also allegedly seized drug paraphernalia from him. The other man Zachary Knight, 18, of Kendallville allegedly was found in possession of methamphetamine.

Gillespie and Knight were booked into Noble County Jail.

American Red Cross volunteers were at the scene, and moved those displaced by the fire to the Best Western Motel in Kendallville.

No cause for the fire or where it started had been determined late Saturday night, said Riehm. “We’ll be here most of the night,” he said.

The building with its distinctive four columns at the front is believed to be more than 100 years old.

The state fire marshal has been contacted to conduct an investigation on Monday. Riehm said the building will be boarded up, and the public warned to keep away.

Corunna and LaOtto fire departments were on standby at Kendallville fire stations.

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