Irwin Block demolition begins: Firewall will come down brick-by-brick before heavy equipment arrives

A brick-by-brick demolition of the Irwin Block building began Monday afternoon, seven weeks after a fire destroyed the structure in downtown Columbus.

Indianapolis firm Casey-Bertram has been hired for the demolition.

Estimator and project manager Jimmy Arthur said in a previous interview that the company would first take down the east firewall by hand, which should take about a week, and then move on to using heavier machinery to demolish the rest of the building.

The firewall prevented more serious damage from happening to the Greater Columbus Indiana Economic Development Corp. and Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce offices located next door to the Irwin building, Columbus firefighters said after the fire.

The Fifth Street block in front of the Irwin building, and the rear of the building that faces an alley, have been fenced off since the fire occurred.

When asked how soon this section of Fifth Street might reopen, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop said “as soon as we (the city) deem it safe.”

“They tell us that the demolition could take six to eight weeks, so that could put us at the end of February,” he said,”But we’re hopeful that we can open up, that we’ll be able to access the street and the alleyway sooner than that, but it’ll all be dependent upon how the demolition progresses.”

He added that residents should keep their distance from the worksite.

Columbus firefighters have warned that the Irwin Block building is unstable, saying it could collapse at any time.

It has been almost two months since a massive fire destroyed it, resulting in a large portion of its third-story facade collapsing onto the sidewalk and street at both the front and the back of the structure.

Local and state investigators have ruled the cause of the Dec. 3 fire as “undetermined,” meaning that they were unable to find enough physical evidence or evidence obtained from witnesses that would indicate what caused the fire.

When asked how he feels about the pace of the demolition process, Lienhoop replied, “I always think everything should have been done yesterday.”

However, he added that the property owners have kept the city updated, so they understand why things have been taking so long and appreciate their work toward having the building taken down safely.