FREDERICKTOWN — Thick, black smoke blocking the sun gave Fredericktown’s North Main Street the appearance of midnight Sunday at noon, as a fast-moving fire devoured a historic two-story brick and wood building, and damaged two others.
Image Building destroyed
The Fredericktown Community Fire District and Fredericktown EMS were dispatched for smoke in the building at 84 1/2 N. Main St. at 11:43 a.m. EMS Chief Rick Lanuzza was first on the scene, and alerted Fire Chief Scott Mast, who was en route.
Due to the size of the structure, which houses three apartments and several office spaces, and the close proximity of other buildings, Mast called for mutual aid from Mount Vernon and Bellville.
“I called for more mutual aid due to the conditions that we encountered when we arrived on scene with large amounts of heavy smoke and fire showing on the back side of the building, and the north and south exposures,” he said.
The thick smoke poured from the second story apartment belonging to Miquel and Kelly Torres and their family.
The Torres family discovered the fire when they returned home from church around 11:40 a.m.
“We didn’t see anything when we first pulled up,” said Kelly Torres. “Then my husband opened the door and we couldn’t get 2 feet in the door.”
“My daughter came in and said she smelled smoke in the bathroom and it was coming through the vents,” said Clarence Frye, who lived in the other occupied apartment with two of his daughters and his newborn grandson. “By the time we called 9-1-1, Miquel had smoke and flames in his apartment.”
Frye was home with his youngest daughter at the time, and both were able to get out safely. The Torres family also escaped unharmed.
As the growing size and catastrophic potential of the fire were realized, more mutual aid crews were requested. The Fredericktown Police Department blocked the roads, keeping all traffic except emergency vehicles away from downtown.
At the height of the fire, fire trucks from 18 departments from Knox, Richland, Morrow, Licking and Delaware counties responded.
Besides manpower, Mast said, water was the resource most needed to beat back the fire.
“Water was a huge issue,” he said. “We were utilizing more water than the village water system could supply us.”
About 10 tanker trucks from different departments were needed to carry water to the fire from the Kokosing River.
The Fredericktown water tower, which holds 100,000 gallons of water, was drained, according to Mast. The chief said there was no way to calculate the total amount of water used during the firefighting operation because water was being pumped directly out of the river.
The Knox County Chapter of the American Red Cross arrived to offer aid to the Torres and Frye families, as well as to the firefighters.
Mast also requested assistance from the Knox County Emergency Management Agency.
Dorothy Hoovler, who owns the building, arrived with members of her family to survey the damage.
“They did a good job saving those two buildings,” Hoovler said pointing at the adjacent structures.
“The overall cooperation of all the mutual aid departments greatly enhanced the operation and enabled us to save the two adjoining structures,” Mast said late Sunday.
Hoovler said it was too soon to say whether she would rebuild the building.
Fredericktown firefighters were on the scene until after 11 p.m.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office and the FCFD are investigating the cause and origin of the fire.
“It’s too soon to say at this point in the investigation where and how the fire started,” Mast said late Sunday.
Investigators will return to the scene today.