Several tenants lose everything in complex fire

Herbert Street fire aftermath
Herbert Street fire aftermath

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Fort Wayne fire crews continued to spray hot spots Tuesday after a major fire ripped through an industrial complex a day earlier.  After mixed reports, fire crews confirmed there were two major buildings in the complex.  Several tenants rented out space in one of the buildings, either using it for storage or business purposes.

Photo Gallery | Herbert Street Fire

There’s a different owner for each of the buildings.  FWFD Chief Deputy Mark Nelson initially said about 12 to 14 tenants had occupied the complex.  But the owner of the east building, Dave Anglin, said he only had six tenants.  Anglin said the fire damaged five of his tenants’ units.

Some of the tenants say they lost everything in the fire.

John Allen Sr. is an install supervisor for Legacy Heating and Air.  He had been renting space at the industrial complex and using it for a car repair shop.  He headed to the scene Monday after his wife called him crying.

“Eight years of acquiring, buying out other businesses, we lost it all.  The lifts, the tools, the torches, plasma cutters, we lost everything.  So basically what it takes to run a business is what I lost so it’s unfortunate.  But nobody got hurt, that’s the important part,” Allen Sr. said.  “I lost a personal car of mine.  I have a customer car of mine that was in there on the left.”

Phil Biddle rented space at the complex for the Skyline Group Company.  He said he used it to do automotive repair and store medical equipment.

“I lost all my equipment, my tools, compressors, welders, [my friend’s] race boat, a lot of medical equipment…wheelchairs, scooters,” Biddle said.  “It was probably 30, 40, $50,000 worth of stuff.”

Biddle said he didn’t have enough insurance.  Allen Sr. and Anglin said they didn’t have any insurance.  When asked who was going to pay for large losses, Anglin said they’re still trying to sort that out.  Anglin said he kept a forklift, lawn equipment, and factory stuff in his space.

Other items reportedly in the complex included landscaping equipment, wood panels, two mobile home trailers, a dump truck, and oxygen tanks.

The major fire was well underway when FWFD crews responded Monday afternoon.  It happened near Herbert Street just east of downtown and south of the Maumee River.  A black plume of smoke could be seen from miles away.

Fire officials said the east building of the complex was covered in polyurethane foam.  It was supposed to be used for insulation.  Instead it and other equipment served as fuel for one of the largest Fort Wayne fires in recent memory.

Officials didn’t know the exact size of the complex, but said it was hundreds of thousands of square feet.

In all, fire officials said every Fort Wayne firefighter on duty Monday responded in some way to the fire.  That’s almost 100 firefighters.  And it’s not over yet, as fire crews will continue to clean up and investigate well into the night.

Investigation Update:

Fire officials told NewsChannel 15 Tuesday that the investigation into the origin and cause of the massive fire is concentrated on a “point of interest” right now.

Demolition on one building started at the end of one building by the street and worked its way in, but it stopped around the middle of the building.

“They got to an area that is of interest that could be a potential place of origin for the fire. They’ll much more meticulously and more slowly and more methodically go through that area,” Mark Nelson, Deputy Chief of the Fort Wayne Fire Department, said. “They’ll tear into that area very carefully and see if it does seem like a legitimate origin and then potentially find a cause.”

The investigation into the cause of a fire starts as soon as crews arrive. Investigators are looking at where the fire is in the structure and where it is not, the fire’s intensity, the smoke, the burn patterns and taking pictures and talking to witnesses.

“In this particular fire, when we arrived there was a very large area that was involved, but it was concentrated in one particular area of the building,” Nelson said. “Even though [other parts of the complex] are destroyed, they weren’t on fire when we got here, so those are simple clues that start pointing them in the right direction.”

Being able to narrow down an investigation into a smaller area makes huge fire scenes like this one more manageable.

While the question of arson has been raised, investigators are still several steps away from making that ruling.

“First they determine where the fire started. That will point them in the direction of a cause. That cause will then turn the investigation to being ruled accidental or is there evidence that determines there’s going to be a criminal investigation or pursuit,” Nelson said.

The investigation to figure all that out in this case is expected to take some time.

“The bigger the fire, the bigger the pieces to pick apart and put back together,” Nelson said.

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