JACKSON COUNTY, Ind. — The search is on for the cause of a New Year’s Eve fire that leveled two business buildings in Jackson County.
Ten different fire departments from Jackson and Bartholomew Counties responded to Crane Hill Machine & Fabrication, Inc. around 9 p.m. Monday. The metal fabrication firm is located on U.S. 50 midway between Seymour and Brownstown, Indiana in Jackson County.
“It’s probably the largest fire we’ve ever had in the county,” said Browntown Fire Chief Travis McElfresh. Definitely the largest fire we’ve had in Brownstown.”
McElfresh was one of the first firefighters to arrive at the scene. He says he arrived to see flames shooting from all four sides of Crane Hill’s main building. He says strong winds helped the flames spread to a second building.
Fire crews struggled to keep pace with the spreading fire due to water resupply challenges, McElelfresh said. An aerial fire truck on the scene was hooked up directly to a nearby water tower. 18 tanker trucks had to make repeated trips to fire hydrants further down US 50 in order to refill water tanks on the scene.
“Before one tanker could pull away and another one would back in, we would pull the tank dry that we were pumping into,” McElfresh said.
In all, it took roughly five hours and about 500,000 gallons of water to get the fire under control. Rising smoke and small visible flames could still be seen within the collapsed structure as late as noon the following day.
Nobody was in the building when the fire started and no injuries to firefighters were reported, McElfresh said.
McElfresh also said the owners of the business, Royalty Investments, told him nobody had been in the building since Saturday morning.
“We may not be able to determine a cause as badly as it is burned,” he said. “Sometimes you can’t.”
Seymour Republican State Representative Jim Lucas, who went to the fire scene Monday night after receiving several phone calls about it, said he’s saddened by the sudden loss to the local business.
“Obviously a tragedy, but thankfully nobody was hurt,” Lucas said.
Lucas said the owners of Crane Hill are well-liked in the Jackson County community and he expects they will take good care of the more than 40 employees at the business.
“You know these are people who are dependent upon their livelihoods,” Lucas said. “And these are good caring families that own this business. My heart goes out to them.”