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Beneath the Ashes

Jeffersonville fire
poses concerns in Madison

Historic building owners
take note of safety measures

By Ruth Wright
Staff Writer

(February 2004) – Rose Conway, owner of Hinkle’s Sandwich Shop in Madison, could easily empathize with business owners in Jeffersonville. Conway experienced a similar incident just a little more than three years ago when a fire erupted in one of the second floor apartments above her downtown restaurant, which is well known locally for its juicy hamburgers.

Madison Cover 2-04
Cover of Madison edition.

"I knew what those people were going to be up against in the next few months of their lives,” said Conway.
On Dec. 19, 2000, Madison volunteer firefighters were called in to battle the blaze at Hinkle’s and fortunately prevented widespread damage. “The majority of the fire damage was to the second and third floors above the restaurant,” recalled Madison fire chief Steve Horton, whose crew prevented widespread damage from the blaze. The building immediately to the east was the only other damaged, said Horton.
Most of the damage to the first floor of Conway’s building, which housed Hinkle’s and two second floor apartments, was from water, said Conway. She was later told that an estimated 200,000 gallons were used to extinguish the fire. The water, along with smoke and debris, left her restaurant and 99 percent of its contents in ruins.
Fortunately for Conway, the building was not a total loss. And after four months of clean-up and repairs, she was able to welcome back to her restaurant the loyal customers she had so dearly missed.
Many of the Jeffersonville business owners won’t be so lucky. Only a part of the facade remains of the three connected buildings that housed Horner Novelty, a party supplies store located at 310 Spring St. Also destroyed or significantly damaged by the blaze were businesses located at 300, 324 and 326 Spring, and a home at 121 Chestnut. The structures, except for the home, were built in the late 1880s.
Experts have traced the cause of the fire to the Horner building. “It was electrical,” said Horner vice president Greg Kloss. “A junction box within the ceiling apparently malfunctioned or shorted.”

Jeffersonville fire

Photo by C.A. Branham/Jeffersonville Evening News

The Jan. 11 fire engulfed the entire city block.

Fed by the huge amount of combustibles, paper products and party supplies, the fire spread quickly through the store and into adjoining structures, leaving firefighters with an inferno nearly impossible to extinguish. Fortunately, because of the time of the incident, most of the buildings were unoccupied and no one was injured.
The Jeffersonville store, one of three Horner Novelty locations owned by Chuck Mattingly, employed about 25 people and in addition to retail merchandise housed the company’s administrative offices. Built circa 1880 according to Kloss, the building remained largely unimproved except for cosmetic enhancements.
The Spring Street fire has left many, especially those who own old buildings, feeling concerned. “I was pretty upset to hear that would have happened to an historic district, especially since they put all that work into restoration,” said Laura Ratcliff, who with her husband, Tony, owns the historic Ohio Theater in downtown Madison. She admitted that the Jeffersonville fire made her think of Madison.
One of the issues concerning these and other historic towns is deterioration. “Old buildings have a lifetime, just like people do,” said Chief Horton. “Electrical systems deteriorate over time.”
Within a few days of the Jeffersonville fire, Horton was invited by State Fire Marshal Andy Long to meet him on the site to examine the charred remains of the historic buildings to see what might be learned.
“It confirmed everything I know to be true about such fires in these old buildings,” Horton said upon his return. “It gives you an entirely different perspective to see the damage up close than what you see in newspaper photos or on TV.”
Complicating the concern in Madison is that many old buildings lack protection, such as sprinkler systems and alarms. Many do not always meet current fire codes, Horton said.
“When (a building is) renovated or the occupancy type changes, then it has to meet the code that is in effect at the time of (inspection),” he said.
Mike Flint, who renovated into apartments the former Lodge Brothers Furniture store, said about 20 percent of his budget went toward protecting the building from fire. That included installing a building-wide sprinkler system, a monitoring system and alarms, and using flame retardant construction materials, such as metal studs and flame-resistant ceiling tiles. As a result, “I think it’s probably the safest building in Madison,” Flint said.

Horner Novelty-after fire

Photo by C.A. Branham/Jeffersonville Evening News

Horner Novelty the day after the fire.

Ratcliff, who also owns Roger’s Corner restaurant and the building in between it and the theater, said the fire at Hinkle’s made her especially aware of the issue. “We’ve double-checked our buildings to see that fire walls go all the way up to the roof,” she said. Smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are also installed throughout, she said.
So far, luck has been with downtown Madison, said Horton. He recalled that in the past 15 years, no major fires other than the one at Hinkle’s have occurred. Hertz Shoes, however, did experience a scare last October when smoke was noticed emanating from the ballast of a fluorescent light fixture during a festival taking place out front on Main Street.
“It could have turned into a fire if it weren’t taken care of,” said owner Bill Hertz, who was present at the time of the incident and immediately called for help.
Firefighters determined the cause of the smoke and the incident was quickly resolved. “I think we’re very fortunate to have a tremendous volunteer fire department,” said Hertz.
In the case of a fire, the city of Madison has ready to answer calls six fire stations, four downtown and two on the hill, said Horton. Madison fire department officials include Horton, deputy chief Ken Washer, battalion chiefs Dave Carlow and Bob Wilson, safety training officer Steve Manaugh and special operations officer Jeff Watterson. The department has 173 volunteers.
There are, of course, measures that owners of older structures can take to reduce the chance of fire. They include making sure that electrical and mechanical systems are in good condition, avoiding the storage of combustibles in certain areas, like electric panel and furnace rooms, and avoiding accumulation of rubbish, said Horton.
Should damage be sustained from a fire, the best way to be prepared is with appropriate insurance. Countless types of policies exist, so it’s important to know exactly what kind you have.

Steve Horton

Photo by Don Ward

Madison Fire Chief Steve Horton.

“Keep in mind, when and if there is a loss, the loss will be settled according to what type of policy exists,” said Tom Davee of Madison Insurance Agency. The two main types of valuation are market value and replacement value, Davee said.
Horner Novelty in Jeffersonville was insured for the replacement value of the structure, its contents and inventory, and the computer main frame system, according to Kloss. Also in place was a separate policy for disruption of business.
“Emotional issues aside, I would say it has gone much smoother than personally I would have expected or thought. The insurance company has been great to work with,” Kloss said.
Horton, who knows personally Jeffersonville Fire Chief Clark Miles, knows what the department was up against. “This fire must have burned hidden for some time,” said Horton, noting the extent of the damage by the time firefighters arrived on the scene. “There were still some smoldering fires underneath nearly a week later.”
Conway, who attributed community support for helping her make it back into business, said she hopes for the same for the business owners in Jeffersonville. “I was blown out of the water by the community’s kindness,” said Conway, counting the many people who stepped in during and after the fire to help when they could. “I really hope those people in Jeffersonville have that kind of community support.”
They have, according to Kloss. “The community support has been phenomenal,” he said, citing assistance from Jeffersonville Mayor Rob Waiz, local residents, the historical and Main Street societies, and the city.

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