Update: Investigation begins into cause of Fifth Street fire downtown

11:30 a.m. update

Local and state fire investigators are beginning an investigation into the cause of a fire in the 400 block of Fifth Street early Sunday morning that destroyed a commercial building containing offices and a photo studio.

Here are some of the latest photos from the scene.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic
Columbus firefighters work the aftermath of a large fire at 422 Fifth Street in downtown Columbus, Ind., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. The building partially collapsed due to the fire.
Mike Wolanin | The Republic
A view of the aftermath of a large fire at 422 Fifth Street in downtown Columbus, Ind., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. The building partially collapsed due to the fire.
Mike Wolanin | The Republic
A view of the aftermath of a large fire at 422 Fifth Street in downtown Columbus, Ind., Sunday, Dec. 4, 2022. The building partially collapsed due to the fire.

 

7:30 a.m. update

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Columbus firefighters continue to work at the scene of a fire at a commercial building in the 400 block of Fifth Street, involving structures at 440 Fifth St. and 422 Fifth St.

Capt. Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department spokesman, said a passerby discovered flames in the building and called 911. When firefighters arrived, they found a well-involved fire at the rear of 440 Fifth St., and a portion of a single story structure at that location collapsed.

As additional firefighters arrived on the scene and an initial attack commenced, firefighters determined that the fire had spread to the rear of 422 5th St.

Firefighters entered 422 5th St. to search for occupants and encountered high heat and heavy smoke conditions. As firefighters entered one of the businesses located within the building,  crews located a cat who promptly ran from the building after firefighters forced entry into the office space, Wilson said.

As crews searched the interior of 422 5th St., conditions within the interior deteriorated rapidly. With an increase in visible fire viewed from the exterior and changing smoke conditions, the on scene command ordered all firefighters out of the buildings for an attack on the fire from the exterior. From the exterior, firefighters utilized both hand line fire hoses and elevated water streams from aerial ladder trucks.

As extinguishment efforts continued, a large portion of the third story façade of 422 5th St. collapsed onto 5th Street, narrowly missing firefighters below. As a result of the collapse, a large amount of debris landed on the ladder of Columbus Fire Engine 2, which was directing a water stream into upper floor windows. Firefighters returned the ladder to the street level and removed bricks and building materials. No firefighters were on the ladder at the time of the collapse. As result of the damage to the Engine # 2, the apparatus was removed from service.

Working in freezing temperatures, around 28 degrees, firefighters gained control of the fire in approximately four hours, Wilson said.

Approximately 40 City of Columbus firefighters worked at the scene to control the blaze, Wilson said. This included approximately six off duty Columbus Firefighters who were called in to assist with the operation. Additional ladder trucks where requested from the City of Seymour and the town of Hope. Numerous Bartholomew County fire agencies provided standby service for the City of Columbus during the incident, answering 911 calls for assistance throughout the city.

Three Columbus firefighters sustained slight injuries from falling at the scene due to the ice.

Mary Ferdon, Executive Director of Administration and Community Development, and Jamie Brinegar, city Director of Business Services, were at the scene working with firefighters and business representatives to assist. Ferdon worked with Realty One offices at 436 Washington St., nearby to provide for a shelter for firefighters needing assistance, food or a heating area. Restroom facilities and coffee were available there along with food for firefighters and Columbus police officers who blocked off Fifth Street at several intersections.

Columbus Regional Hospital Ambulance also responded to the scene.

The Salvation Army also was at the fire scene with food and warm beverages.

Due to flame impingement on power lines, the electric power service to a portion of the downtown area was discontinued. Due to debris left by the partial building collapse, 5th Street will be closed to traffic between Washington Street and Franklin Street for an undetermined period of time.

Ferdon had already asked Columbus Department of Public Works to assist with cleanup and to salt the city streets affected by water, and a salt truck was on the scene at about 5 a.m.

The initial search of the buildings indicated that both buildings were unoccupied. According to property management, both 422 and 440 5th St. are commercial office buildings with no residential occupancies. The buildings house several businesses including; The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, Bailey and Wood Financial Group, Arnholt and Staggs Law Office and TD Advertising. Property management representatives shared with fire investigators that additional businesses lease space within both buildings.

The cause of the fire is currently under investigation. Damage estimates are undetermined at this time.

Agencies that assisted at the scene include the Columbus Police Department, Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Office, Columbus City Utilities, Center Point Energy, Duke Energy, Bartholomew County 911 Emergency Operations Dispatch Center,  Bartholomew County Emergency Management, City Of Columbus Department of Public Works and the Salvation Army.

 

 

5 a.m. update

COLUMBUS, Ind. —  Columbus firefighters continue to work on hotspots at a commercial building fire at 422 Fifth St, where a large portion of the building in the front, and the back, collapsed during the fire.

Fifth Street and Franklin Street near the building remain blockaded as firefighters continue to work.

Firefighters continue to be wary of further building collapse as the weight of the water being put on the structure since midnight could contribute to that, firefighters said.

A fire wall between the commercial building, which held office space and photo studios, and the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce building did hold but the building is believed to have sustained water and smoke damage.

The State Fire Marshal is being called to assist in the investigation. No cause has yet been determined for the fire, which was reported at 11:50 p.m.

During the building collapse, one firefighter suffered a minor knee injury and was treated at the scene, firefighters said.

City officials reminded residents that the area remains a working fire scene, and with temperatures in the 28-degree range, a great deal of ice has formed on sidewalks and streets near the fire scene.

Columbus Department of Public Works sent out a salt truck to try to alleviate some of the ice on the nearby streets.

Firefighters cautioned those planning to attend church this morning to avoid the area of Fifth and Franklin as crews expect to be at the scene for some time.

For more on this story, check back here or pick up an upcoming Republic.

 

 

3 a.m. update

COLUMBUS, Ind — Columbus firefighters, with assistance from engine companies from Hope and Seymour, continue to fight a large commercial building fire at 422 Fifth St. A portion of the building in the front and in the back has collapsed so far.

Capt. Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department spokesman, said the fire was reported at 11:50 p.m. and was fully involved when firefighters arrived. A portion of the building has collapsed into the rear parking lot, followed by a portion of the front of the building, which collapsed on Columbus Fire Department Engine 2 and its ladder, Wilson said.

“We had firefighters within feet — literally — from the building when the front collapsed,” Wilson said. “But no one was hurt.”

Columbus Fire Department has since updated the injury report to say one firefighter suffered a slight knee injury at the scene, but was treated at the scene and continued working.

No firefighters were injured, but the engine, which is still operating, had debris and wood that fell on the ladder had to be removed.

 

Photo by Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department. Bricks and debris are shown on Engine 2’s ladder after a partial building collapse at 422 Fifth St. during a major commercial building fire reported at 11:50 p.m.

The building contains commercial businesses and firefighters said they do not believe anyone was in the structure when the fire was reported.

Wilson said firefighters continue to be aware of further collapse of the structure as they are pouring a large quantity of water on it, which would have the result of added weight to the structure. “It will have an effect on the building with the added weight,” he said.

Firefighters are working to keep the fire from spreading further toward the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce building, which has a fire wall separating the two structures which is holding so far, Wilson said. On the other side of the building is a parking lot and then the Centra offices on Washington Street which have not been affected.

The brick building has offices for Bailey and Wood Financial, Arnholt and Skaggs law offices and a number of photography studios.

Duke Energy had cut power to the block to assist firefighters.

Firefighters did not have an exact age of the building, but buildings nearby date to the early 1900s, and that is estimated to be when the building was probably constructed.

About 40 firefighters are battling the fire in 28-degree temperatures. Engines from all six Columbus Fire Department engine companies are at the scene, and the firefighting contingent includes firefighters who were actually off duty but arrived to help, Wilson said.

Mary Ferdon, Executive Director of Administration and Community Development, and Jamie Brinegar, city Director of Business Services, were at the scene working with firefighters and business representatives to assist. Ferdon worked with Realty One offices nearby to provide for a shelter for firefighters needing assistance, food or a heating area.

The American Red Cross has also been notified and asked to come to the scene.

Columbus Fire Department warned residents that the area is covered in smoke and residents should avoid Franklin Street between Fourth and Seventh Street due to ongoing efforts to put out the fire.

Water from the firefighting efforts is cascading down Fifth Street on both sides of the street. Columbus Fire Department has blocked access to Fifth Street around the fire scene.

Firefighters said the nearby Bartholomew County Public Library on Fifth Street is not in danger of being damaged from the fire.

Area church members are asked to remember that fire apparatus are blocking several streets that provide access to church parking lots in the area.

Wilson said it will be a “long operation” to get the fire contained.

For more on this story, check back here, or pick up an upcoming Republic.

Photos by Julie McClure, The Republic, and Capt. Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department spokesman

ORIGINAL STORY

COLUMBUS, Ind. — Columbus firefighters are at the scene of a large commercial office space fire in the 400 block of Fifth St.

Firefighters said the building has partially collapsed and it will be  a lengthy effort to put the fire out. No injuries have been reported. The building is located at 422 Fifth St.

For more on this story, check back here or pick up an upcoming print edition of The Republic.