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Classic cars lost in blaze

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A Hope area body shop owner and vehicle collector lost his shop and two prized classic cars during a fire.

The blaze that destroyed Jim’s Garage and Body Shop, on County Road 800N in an area of northern Bartholomew County known as Old St. Louis, was noticed at 4:23 p.m. Tuesday, shop owner James Lobdell said.

While Lobdell and two employees managed to get a customer’s car out of the burning building, two of his classic vehicles that had been undergoing restoration for the past four months were destroyed.

One was a 1957 Chevrolet convertible that Lobdell has owned for 32 years. The garage owner said that while the convertible did not have an engine, the body had been completely restored at the time of the fire.

The other classic car was a 1937 Desoto Coupe that Lobdell said he purchased about 15 years ago. After restoring the coupe’s engine, Lobdell was next preparing to restore the body.

While the Desoto was valued at less than $20,000, Lobdell said he had recently received a $25,000 offer for the convertible in its current condition.

“Of course, they aren’t worth nothing anymore,” Lobdell said, adding he is hopeful his insurance will cover damage to both the building and its contents.

Besides the classic cars, the garage contained several specialized tools and pieces of equipment used for automotive repair and body restoration, he said.

For that reason, Lobdell said he believes total building and content damage to the 44-year-old garage will run in excess of $300,000 — an opinion that Hope Fire Chief Bruce Neal did not dispute.

While he confirmed the fire started in the back of the garage, Neal said it could take days to dig under the collapsed roof before county and state investigators can examine evidence regarding the fire’s origin.

The blaze appeared to originate in the roof area, which contained only electrical wiring and insulation, Lobdell said. After talking to investigators, he said it’s his understanding a bird or small animal might have gotten into the attic and caused an electrical short.

Two fires in one day

Many volunteer firefighters who responded to the fire had just spent more than four hours battling another significant blaze southwest of Taylorsville as temperatures hovered in the low 90s, Clifford Fire Chief Charlie Moore said.

During the first blaze, Comer Plumlee and two young boys escaped injuries after a fire originating in a clothes dryer destroyed Plumlee’s ranch-style home on West Ohio Ridge Road.

“We fought two major fires on the hottest day of the year,” Moore said. “But at least God has blessed us with the fact that nobody was seriously hurt.”

While the Plumlee fire sent former Clifford Fire Chief Ed Stone to Columbus Regional Hospital for treatment of heat exhaustion, Stone still managed to drive a tanker truck to the second fire near Hope, Moore said.

Columbus Township Fire and Rescue firefighter Art Fields, who also collapsed while fighting the first fire near Taylorsville, also was on the scene of the body shop fire.

Fields, who said he recovered just in time to avoid being taken to the emergency room, described heat exhaustion as both physically and mentally draining.

Many firefighters who arrived in Old St. Louis shortly after 5 p.m. Tuesday remained at the scene of the body shop fire until 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Lobdell said.

Besides excessive heat, the lack of hydrants at both rural fire locations was another obstacle, requiring use of tanker trucks to make continuous runs for water.

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