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

Jay K. Bradish details a blaze that tore through seven commercial buildings in the historic downtown business district of Jeffersonville, IN.


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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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.