On the Job – Indiana: 7-Alarm Fire Destroys Historic Buildings in Jeffersonville

On Jan. 11, 2004, a raging fire tore through seven commercial buildings in the historic downtown business district of Jeffersonville, IN. The buildings in this block ranged in height from one to three stories with brick walls and flat roofs. All of the buildings were built in the late 1880s or early...


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On Jan. 11, 2004, a raging fire tore through seven commercial buildings in the historic downtown business district of Jeffersonville, IN. The buildings in this block ranged in height from one to three stories with brick walls and flat roofs. All of the buildings were built in the late 1880s or early 1890s.

JEFFERSONVILLE FIRE DEPARTMENT

Chief: Clark Miles
PersonneL: 54 firefighters (combination department)
Apparatus: Two pumpers, two quints, three reserve engines, one reserve quad, one reserve Snorkel
Population: 27,900
Area: 49 square miles

The fire originated in the Horner Novelty Co. building located at 310– 322 Spring Street, in the center of the block. This was a two-story brick building occupying 40,000 square feet. The building was used as a party supply store and had a full inventory of paper and plastic goods. All of the second-floor windows in the Horner building were covered with three-quarter-inch plywood, making ventilation impossible. The wind was blowing between 20 and 30 mph toward the northeast at the time of the fire.

0404job1.jpg Photo By Chuck Branham/The Evening News
Firefighters are in a defensive mode of operation 20 minutes into the incident. A backdraft occurred as firefighters broke the glass out of the front doors to gain entry, blowing two firefighters out into the street. This view looks east toward the Horner Novelty Co. building and 300 Spring St. From left are Jeffersonville Quint 1, Car 5 and Engine 1.

At 5:07 P.M., the Central Fire Alarm Office dispatched District Chief Major Kircher in Car 5 and Engine 1, a 1,500-gpm pumper with three firefighters, to a report of smoke in the area of the Olde Towne Grocery at 128 East Maple St. Kircher observed smoke in the area, but it was not issuing from the Olde Towne Grocery. Central Alarm advised Kircher that it had received several more calls reporting smoke in the area.

Patrolling the area, Kircher discovered a fire in the Horner building located at 310 Spring St. He immediately requested Quint 1, a 105-foot aerial with a 1,500-gpm pump to respond with three firefighters. Kircher advised Central Alarm of a working fire at 5:09 P.M. Engine 1 was positioned in front of fire building and was supplied with two 200-foot three-inch supply lines from a hydrant located at the corner of Spring and Chestnut Streets. Quint 1 was positioned in front of fire building and was supplied with two three-inch supply lines from hydrant north of fire building.

0404job2.jpg Photo By Chuck Branham/The Evening News
Jeffersonville Engine 1 with its deck gun in operation and Quint 1 in the background. Lines have been advanced into 300 Spring St.

The first-arriving crews found heavy smoke inside the Horner building and could see fire inside. Firefighters broke the glass out of the front doors in order to gain entry, and as they did this a backdraft occurred, blowing two firefighters out into the street. Operations were immediately changed to a defensive mode. Engine 1 placed its deck gun into operation and two 21¼2-inch handlines and three 11¼2-inch handlines were also placed into operation.

Kircher requested a second alarm at 5:11 P.M. Engine 2, a 1,500-gpm pumper with three firefighters, and Quint 3, a 75-foot ladder with a 1,500-gpm pump and three firefighters, responded. Fire Chief Clark Miles was also notified and responded on the second alarm. As Miles was responding, he requested the “Kelly Crew” be recalled and upon arrival at the scene, he asked for the recall of all off-duty firefighters. (Jeffersonville firefighters work 24 hours on, 24 off, 24 on, 24 off, 24 on, then four days off. The “Kelly Crew” are the firefighters who are on their on four days off.) In all, 50 Jeffersonville firefighters responded.

0404job3.jpg Photo By John Gilkey/The Evening News
Jeffersonville Quint 1 operates in front of the Horner building. Winds were clocked at up to 30 mph at the time of the fire.

Jeffersonville Engine 2 was positioned on Spring Street and supplied by two 100-foot three-inch supply lines from a hydrant north of the fire building. This engine supplied Quint 1 with two 100-foot three-inch lines. Jeffersonville Quint 3 was positioned on Chestnut Street and was supplied with two 100-foot three-inch supply lines from a hydrant on Chestnut Street. Jeffersonville Engine 6, a 1,500-gpm pumper responded at 5:30. Positioned at the corner of Maple and Wall Streets, this engine hooked onto the hydrant with a five-inch supply line. (This pumper supplied Clarksville Engine 71 upon its arrival.)

By 5:32, heavy smoke and fire had enveloped the entire Horner building and flames were shooting out of the roof. The fire was now spreading to adjoining buildings via a common attic. Miles requested a third alarm at 5:34. The Clarksville Fire Department responded with 20 firefighters and Engine 71, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Engine 72, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Engine 85, a 1,000-gpm pumper; and Engine 86, a 1,000-gpm pumper. The New Albany Fire Department responded with Engine 1, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Truck 1, a 100-foot tower ladder, and Deputy Chief Car 2 with eight firefighters. Jeffersonville Engine 5, a 1,250-gpm pumper, responded at 6 P.M. and was positioned in an alley behind the Olde Towne Grocery.

0404job4.jpg Photo By John Gilkey/The Evening News
Jeffersonville Quint 1 operates a master stream on the Horner building. Seven commercial buildings were involved in the fire. There were no injuries to civilians or firefighters.

Firefighters at the rear of the building operated a 21¼2-inch attack line and a 13¼4-inch attack line from Engine 5. Jeffersonville Engine 3, a 1,500-gpm pumper, responded at 6:20 and was positioned at the corner of Chestnut and Wall Streets. This engine hooked onto a hydrant with a five-inch supply line and supplied Engine 5 with two 250-foot three-inch supply lines. Crews also operated a 21¼2-inch attack line in the alley from Engine 3.

Clarksville Engine 71 was positioned in the alley on the north side of the buildings and supplied by Jeffersonville Engine 6 with two 300-foot three-inch supply lines. Crews operated four 13¼4-inch handlines from this engine along with the deck gun. Clarksville Engine 72 hooked on to the hydrant at Court and Spring Streets with a five-inch supply line. This engine supplied New Albany Truck 1 with two 900-foot three-inch supply lines. Clarksville Engine 85 hooked onto a hydrant at Market and Wall Streets with a five-inch supply line and supplied Jeffersonville Quint 3 with two 800-foot three-inch supply lines. Clarksville Engine 86 was staged. New Albany Engine 1 hooked onto a hydrant at Spring and Maple Streets with a five-inch supply line and supplied New Albany Truck 1 with an additional 300-foot five-inch supply line. New Albany Truck 1 was positioned on Spring Street at the northwest corner of the building and placed its aerial master stream into operation.

0404job5.jpg Photo By John Gilkey/The Evening News
Firefighters assess the situation in front of the Horner building. Crews from a half-dozen departments in Indiana and Kentucky were called to the scene.

Miles requested a fourth alarm 6:35 P.M. The Louisville, KY, Fire Department responded with Engine 5, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Truck 2, a 100-foot tractor-drawn aerial; and District Chief Car 52 with 10 firefighters. The McCulloch Volunteer Fire Department responded with Engine 113, a 1,250-gpm pumper; Engine 115, a 1,250-gpm pumper; TeleSqurt 116, a 50-foot TeleSqurt with a 1,250-gpm pump and Chief 101 with 20 firefighters. This apparatus was staged on Wall Street and the manpower was used in firefighting operations. Utica Volunteer Fire Department responded with Engine 61, a 1,250-gpm pumper and TeleSqurt 69, a 55-foot TeleSqurt with a 1,500-gpm pump with six firefighters.

Louisville Truck 2 was positioned at the southwest corner of the block and placed its aerial master stream into operation. This aerial was supplied by a five-inch supply line from Louisville Engine 5 that hooked onto a hydrant at the corner of Spring and Market Streets. Jeffersonville Quad 2 also supplied Louisville Truck 2 with two three-inch supply lines. Utica Engine 61 hooked onto a hydrant on Maple Street and supplied two 21¼2-inch hoselines to Utica TeleSqurt 69, which was positioned in the alley behind the fire buildings. This aerial master stream was placed into operation.

0404job6.jpg Photo By John Gilkey/The Evening News
A view from the Spring Street side with Jeffersonville Quint 1 in operation along with other master streams. Damage from the fire was estimated at $7 million.

The fire spread to the exposure on the south side of the Horner building. This three-story building, built in the 1880s, was a former J.C. Penney department store. Recently, over $1 million in renovations were done to the building to convert it to a banquet and reception hall on the first floor. Two businesses occupied the second and third floors. A crew of firefighters made entry through the front of the building on Spring Street and advanced to the third floor. Firefighters made an attempt to stop the fire in the attic, but rapidly deteriorating conditions forced them out of the building and into defensive operations on this building.

Exposures to the north of the Horner building included two commercial buildings, one with a second-floor apartment. Firefighters made interior searches of both 324 Spring St., a 20-by-145-foot, two-story structure, and 326 Spring St., a 20-by-100-foot, one-story structure. Firefighters continued to monitor these two buildings as the fire spread across the roofs of both buildings. Extinguishment of the fires in these two buildings was mainly done by aerial master streams.

0404job7.jpg Photo By John Gilkey/The Evening News
A view in front of the Horner building looking toward the southeast. Jeffersonville Quint 1 is shown in operation as firefighters continue to pour water on the flames.

As the fire continued to spread, five homes on East Chestnut Street were evacuated. Jeffersonville police evacuated 16 residents from these structures. An evacuation center was established at the Knights of Columbus building located two blocks from the fire scene. One house located at 121 East Chestnut St., located only inches from the Horner building became involved. The fire destroyed this structure, but did not spread to the next residential structure, which was located only two feet away and protected by crews using an aerial master stream from Jeffersonville Quint 3 and several handlines.

The fire was declared under control at 8:58 P.M. Mutual aid units began being released at 10:30 P.M. Jeffersonville units remained on the scene until Jan. 15 at 6 P.M. Over 100 firefighters used 13 engines, five aerials, two deluge monitors and numerous handlines fighting the fire. Seven commercial buildings with one apartment, one residential structure and three garages were destroyed. Damage was estimated at $7 million. There were no injuries to civilians or firefighters.

0404job8.jpg Photo Courtesy Morris Images
Jeffersonville Quint 3 operates on Chestnut Street looking northwest. Firefighters stopped the fire at this house. Another house located only two feet away received no damage.

Numerous remodeling over the years created many voids in which the fire spread rapidly. The fire had burned for a considerable period before the alarm was turned in. The delayed alarm along with the wind caused the fire to spread very rapidly after it vented. Water pressure in the area also became a problem as additional master stream devices were placed into operation.

A six-day investigation by the Jeffersonville Fire Department, the Indiana State Fire Marshal and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) National Response Team determined that the fire started in an electrical junction box in the ceiling on the first floor in the southeast corner of the Horner building.


Jay K. Bradish/IFPA, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 25 years.

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