On The Job - Indiana: 5-Alarm Fire Guts Historic Structures in Lawrenceburg

Jay K. Bradish details how crews faced extreme cold and strong winds that caused ice to build up quickly on equipment and firefighters, making for a dangerous fire scene.


On Sunday, Feb. 10, 2008, a five-alarm arson fire destroyed a pair of two-story historic buildings in downtown Lawrenceburg, IN. At the time of the fire, the temperature was 17 degrees Fahrenheit with 22-mph winds and a wind chill of zero. The extreme cold and strong winds caused ice to build up...


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As the fire began to spread to the east and west, Abner ordered the interior crew to evacuate the building after approximately five minutes as fire conditions continued to worsen. At the rear, Tower 435 placed two aerial master streams into operation and Engine 436 placed its deck gun into operation. Ladder 425 placed its aerial master stream into operation from side A. Crews stretched additional handlines including two lines into 9 High St. to protect this exposure.

Abner requested additional mutual aid at 5:35. The Aurora Fire Department responded with Engine 515, a 1,250-gpm pumper; Engine 516, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Ladder 517, a 75-foot aerial ladder with a 1,250-gpm pump; and a support truck with 15 firefighters. At 5:39, the Bright Fire Department was requested to respond to the scene. Engines 811, 821, and 831, all 1,250-gpm pumpers, responded with 14 firefighters.

The fire spread west and consumed 11 East High St. It then spread east and consumed 15, 17, and 19 East High St. These addresses included two operating businesses on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. The Dillsboro Fire Department responded to a request for mutual aid at 6:16 as Engine 614, a 1,500-gpm pumper; Engine 611, a 1,250-gpm pumper; and Rescue 631 responded with 12 firefighters. The Manchester Fire Department responded for a request for mutual aid at 6:28. Engine 711, a 1,250-gpm pumper, and Rescue 731 responded with eight firefighters.

Due to high winds, the fire jumped across the alley to the east of the fire building and communicated to 21 and 23 East High St. at approximately 6:30 P.M. This was a two-story building that housed a pizza parlor and a vacant office on the first floor and four apartments on the second floor. The 23 East High St. building was attached to another block of buildings. With this in mind, a trench-cut operation was established at 25 East High Street. Crews from Aurora Ladder 517 and Greendale Tower 340 supported these operations. Truck 340 was supplied with a 300-foot, five-inch hydrant supply line and Aurora Ladder 517 was supplied with a 600-foot, five-inch hydrant supply line. The trench cut proved successful and firefighters stopped the fire from spreading to the next block of connected buildings. The Rising Sun Fire Department was requested to send Ladder 293, a 75-foot aerial ladder with a 2,000-gpm pump, at 7:23. Upon arrival, firefighters from this ladder assisted with roof-trenching operations.

Abner declared the fire under control at 11 P.M. Mutual aid departments were released at 1 A.M. on Feb. 11, and Lawrenceburg units left the scene at 7 A.M. Damage was estimated at $600,000 to the buildings and $200,000 to the contents. Three firefighters were injured during the incident. Four people were left homeless.

An investigation conducted by the Lawrenceburg Fire Department, Lawrenceburg Police Department, Dearborn County Sheriff's Department and Indiana State Fire Marshal's Office determined that the fire was incendiary in nature. Within 24 hours of the initial call, investigators had arrested a juvenile for starting the fire.

Due to the extremely cold temperatures and wind, large amounts of ice built up on firefighters and equipment. Some equipment suffered minor damage due to burning embers and the large amount of ice buildup. The buildings were over 120 years old and had been remodeled several times. Renovations included dividing the buildings into apartments with false walls and ceilings. This enabled rapid fire spread that was out of the reach of master streams.

Firefighters were able to limit the spread of the fire to a confined area of the historic downtown. Lawrenceburg had a similar fire about eight years ago at which the same type of operations were used. With this knowledge, firefighters could rely on the past experience to prevent this fire from becoming a major conflagration.

JAY K. BRADISH/IFPA, Firehouse® news 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.