COLUMBUS, Ind. — Nearly 40 firefighters battled a blaze in downtown Columbus for over four hours on Saturday night amidst freezing temperatures as flames tore through the old building on 5th Street and caused large portions to collapse into rubble.
The Columbus Fire Department said no occupants were in the building at the time of the fire, but three firefighters did suffer slight injuries.
According to the fire department, fire crews responded to the scene of 440 5th Street at approximately 11:50 p.m. Upon arrival, the crew noted visible flames from the well-involved fire. A portion of the building collapsed while firefighters were still deploying hand lines toward the rear of the building.
Officials believe there were 15-20 businesses inside the building. Marinda Fowler had a photography studio on the second floor. “I literally lost everything related to my business aside from my computer. Everything I own for my business was in those four walls and now it’s all gone,” said Marinda Fowler, photographer.
For 23 years, Debbie Spurgeon started her workweek at Arnholt & Staggs Law Office. “I miss my office. I’m going to be sad leaving,” said Debbie Spurgeon, employee.
Firefighters reported entering 422 5th Street in order to search for occupants. While no people were found within the structure, crews did report spotting a cat that quickly fled from the building.
Firefighters were then ordered to clear the building due to the increase in visible fire. Both hand lines and elevated water streams from aerial ladder trucks were used to attack the flames, the fire department said. A large portion of the third-story facade of 422 5th Street then collapsed into the street and narrowly missed a firefighter, according to the fire department.
A Columbus fire engine ended up being removed from the scene after debris from the collapsing building fell on the ladder. No firefighters were on the ladder at the time, however.
Assisting firefighters were brought in from Seymour and Hope to help battle the blaze. The Columbus Fire Department estimated that nearly 40 firefighters in total, including several off-duty firefighters, were a part of the operation.
The fire department said the firefighters gained control of the fire after approximately four hours.
The fire department thanked Realty One for opening their business to the firefighters and providing a shelter for warmth and coffee as the firefighters battled the fire in freezing temperatures. The Salvation Army also responded to the scene to assist fire crews by offering food and beverages.
Electricity had to be closed for a portion of downtown Columbus due to the flames impingement on power lines. A portion of 5th Street was closed due to debris from the collapsed building blocking the roadway.
Both buildings were unoccupied and said to be commercial offices with no residential occupancies, according to the fire department.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.