MOUNT VERNON — The Mount Vernon fire and police departments are partnering with the Division of State Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobaco, Firearms and Explosives to investigate the the cause of the fire that gutted a downtown building on Monday.
The Mount Vernon Fire Department called in the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s Office on Monday to assist with the investigation but Assistant Chief Chris Menapace said the department was well aware the investigation would take far more resources than are available at the MVFD.
“With all of the people that we need to talk to, we just don’t have the resources to do this,” Menapace told Mount Vernon City Council, Monday night.
He said the west side of the 200 block of South Main Street, as well as the adjacent block of West Gambier Street, would be shut down for three or four days in order for local, state and national investigators to determine the cause of the fire.
Menapace did confirm Monday afternoon the building would have to be demolished but no date was given as to when.
The fire, which consumed the building at 201 S. Main St., home to Bodi N Balance and the Divine Institute of Metaphysical Behavior, was called in at 6:35 a.m. Firefighters were on the scene three minutes later, according to Menapace. “The situation is contained, and overhaul is in progress,” Menapace said Monday.
As far as reports of chemicals located in the basement of the facility, Menapace was quick to quiet those rumors.
“About chemicals in the basement, you guys have heard about some crazy flammable stuff, but it’s just not true. There was no chemical problem,” Menapace said.
However, because the contents of the basement remain unknown this morning, he said a thorough evaluation of the basement would have to be made before the water could be pumped out.
“The basement is filled to the brim of the Bilco doors,” he said.
The MVFD gained entry into the basement of the building by using the old coal shute on the north side of the building.
One problem Menapace did report was that of a broken gas line. “A gas line had ruptured and was feeding the fire, but the gas company came out and shut it off preventing any further danger; but, there was no explosion,” said Menapace.
With smoke billowing from the structure, as the fire consumed the building, concern was placed on containing the fire to keep it from spreading to Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s Buchwald Center to the south. “We’ve stopped extension. There is zero fire extension into the Nazarene college. That was our primary focus,” said Menapace.
As firefighters were still unable to enter the building at 2 p.m., Menapace explained how they were able to keep the fire contained to the one structure, using the wind to their advantage. “We cut a hole in the skylight and pressurized the [Buchwald Center]. This helped us contain the flames and prevent them from spreading,” said Menapace.
In explaining the damage to the structure, the building was “a total loss,” according to Menapace. “We’ve had total roof collapse on the third floor and about 20 percent of the roof left intact. There is no more fire in the basement, no fire in the first floor, and the second floor is clear. We have working fire in the very top of the third floor. As soon as that burns off, we’ll be able to deploy the rest of the master streams and extinguish the fire. With where it is right now, we can’t get to it. We’re just going to let the fire come to us and put it out.”
Structural damage to the adjoining Buchwald Center was averted, according to Menapace. “There is smoke damage and water in the basement,” said Menapace. “You’ll have water running down some walls and smoke damage, but no heat damage. I imagine their classes should resume in about a week.”
Menapace stated that one fireman suffered heat exhaustion symptoms, was treated and released and was resting at the fire station.
In addressing questions about water issues, “There were no water issues,” said Menapace. “We were very methodical in using the grid to our advantage. We were pulling from different 12-inch lines so we did not have to rob Peter to pay Paul.”
Around 60 firefighters battled the blaze with 15 apparatuses on the scene from numerous area departments. “The Red Cross has been spectacular,” said Menapace. “Area businesses were bringing out food for the firefighters; they have always been supportive.”
Monday afternoon Menapace hoped the firefighters would be able to start investigating the cause of the blaze.
“Once the black smoke is contained, we’ll start placing men as safely as possible. The (Ohio) State Fire Marshal will assist us and help us out. We’re getting ready to transition into investigation,” said Menapace.
According to Carrie Crouch, spokeswoman for the Mount Vernon Nazarene Univeristy, the college would meet with fire officials this morning and determine when it would be safe to go into the Buckwald Center and assess the damage.
Building owner John Montenery received word on the blaze early Monday and was on the scene for a portion of the day. “We really don’t know any more than what we’re being told. It supposedly started in the basement, but we’re not sure what caused it,” said Montenery. “I haven’t heard anything from the insurance company. I’m just glad nobody is hurt. My biggest concern right now is all the downtown businesses who now have all this smoke inside. We’re not sure what we’ll do yet. We’ll just take it day to day.”
Montenery added two tenants lived on the second floor of the building. He said neither tenant was home Monday morning.
Bodi N Balance owner Trevor Tieche told the News he received a phone call this morning telling him about the fire.
“It was literally a whirlwind after I got the call” said Tieche.
When the building was inspected two months ago by the MVFD, Tieche said his “lease space passed with flying colors.”
Tieche said he was not sure what will happen to the business at this point.
“This has really been a shock for me. My biggest question is what do I need to do, because this has never happened to me before,” he said.
The business recently expanded with the opening of Brutal Intentions Mixed Martial Arts Academy, Tieche said.
Members of Bodi N Balance have been offered a 30-day membership to the Mount Vernon YMCA, executive director Nick Clark told the News Monday afternoon. Members in good standing must show their Bodi N Balance membership card to YMCA staff who will assist them in the use of the facility.
First-Knox National Bank’s main office on South Main Street is closed again today because of the smoke in the building. The Alcove is open for business.
The American Red Cross of Knox County worked diligently keeping the firefighters and emergency personnel fed and hydrated for 10 hours. Red Cross volunteers on the scene were Marie Poe, Carol Mayhew, Joanne Snow, Charlie Brenneman, Judy Smith, Phyllis Grant, Darlene Theophilus, James Hobson and Randy Hudson. Volunteers at the Chapter House were Lisa Blubaugh and Cathy Lynch. Businesses who graciously donated food and or services were Bayleaf Indian Bistro, Papa John’s, Henry’s on the Square, Quizno’s, The Alcove Restaurant, Pizza Hut, The Salvation Army, Kroger’s, Neff’s and Lee Williams.