Editorial: Building lost to fire, but so much saved

Downtown Columbus lost a historic and architecturally significant landmark over the weekend with the devastating fire that consumed the Irwin Block at 422 Fifth St. And as terrible as this loss is for our community and for the businesses that were displaced, we are fortunate. This could have been far, far worse.

Still, the fire is a heart-rending loss for a community that prides itself on its love and appreciation of architecture. The building was a Queen Anne-style edifice whose grandiosity — including its stately ornate bay windows overlooking the street below — was a nostalgic throwback. The building was an old-timey contrast to our more studied modernist architectural gems.

Yet the Irwin Block was iconic in its own right, predating many of our better-known structures by a half-century or more and attesting to our city’s early prosperity.

But the block also had significance for its connection to the future Cummins Inc., which powers our region’s modern economic fortunes. As The Republic’s Andy East reported, “The building earned the name ‘Irwin Block’ because it was built by Joseph I. Irwin, the great-grandfather of J. Irwin Miller,” who led Cummins for more than 25 years and perhaps more than anyone shaped Columbus’ architectural legacy.

There is no replacing the Irwin Block as it was, but that’s the worst of the news. Because for all of the material loss and businesspeople who were displaced by the blaze — Realtors, lawyers, photographers, advertising entrepreneurs and others — there were no fatalities and no serious injuries.

Our firefighters, who train for the unpredictable and rush toward danger to protect us from it, fought the fire through a freezing night, knowing that the building’s instability put them directly in peril. Fortunately, no firefighters were seriously injured, though three sustained minor injuries from slipping and falling in icy conditions.

We owe our firefighters great praise for containing this fire, which easily could have spread to more structures. We also are grateful to the passing Columbus police officer who noticed a small fire inside the building, called it in and got the emergency response rolling.

Meantime, our community is rallying for those who could use a hand. Almost immediately after the fire was extinguished, gofundme accounts had been established to help some of the businesspeople who now are looking for new studio and office space. This community will continue to come together to help those impacted by this fire recover and move forward.

It will be some time before we know how the fire started, but answers will come.

But we do know this: As terrible as this fire was, it was not a human tragedy. For this, we thank our selfless firefighters and emergency responders who performed heroically to extinguish this blaze before it could further threaten lives and property.