Vacant building destroyed in four-alarm fire on Indianapolis south side

Source: IFD
Published: .
Updated: .

It could take some time before fire investigators determine the cause of a four-alarm fire at a vacant warehouse near State Avenue and Van Buren Street on the city's south side.

One firefighter was taken to IU Health-Methodist Hospital to be checked out for heat-related injuries. No civilian injuries were reported. 

The building is a two-story brick building, believed to be site of an old manufacturing company. The size is an estimated 160,000 square feet - a span of almost a full city block. It started at around 9:00 pm Sunday night and crews were still putting out hot spots Monday morning.

Neighbors were startled by how fast a little smoke turned into such a huge fire.

"We started seeing the flames. It was crazy. It went, like, 'click click, click click'," said a witness to the fire.

The tar and rubber membrane roof of the building acted as an accelerant, according to IFD spokesman Larry Tracy, creating a problem for firefighters.  Embers blowing off the roof of the first building spread to an adjacent building to the south, as well as a field.

IFD reported that the building has been vacant for years.

Firefighters reported structural collapse in the first building on Van Buren.

Some embers were picked up by the wind and ignited other fires, but IFD reported at 11:10 p.m. that crews were making progress in controlling the fire.

Some residents south of the fire, along Legrande, were alerted to embers drifting from the fire. Some decided to leave the area.  Power to the area was shut off as a precaution.  According to IPL, 40 customers were affected.

The fire was called in shortly after 9:00 p.m. and first paged out as an apartment fire.  Firefighters found the building fully involved when they arrived and took a defensive approach, according to Tracy.

View slide show of the fire.

The fire has put plans to redevelop the buildings into senior housing in jeopardy. Two buildings sustained heavy damage in the fire.

The Holcomb and Hoke business flourished in the early 1900s, but folded a few years ago. The property owners are $160,000 behind on their property taxes and they've been cited by the city numerous times over the years for high weeds and unsecured, dangerous buildings.

Fire inspectors have visited the site twice this year.

"Once in March and once in July. They made an attempt both times to inspect the building, but were unable to gain access to the building," said IFD Capt. Rita Burris.

Authorities say the investigation will be time-consuming, difficult and perhaps dangerous.

"Fire investigators will arrive on scene and they'll begin the process of assessing whether or not they're even gonna be able to enter the building. They're not really sure how much structural integrity is left of this building; they're not sure what was actually in the building or how much of the building has collapsed," said Burris. "There is a definite possibility of collapse. It's better safe than sorry."

Sources with the city say when the property came up in a tax sale last year, there were no bidders. However, this Thursday the city was set to recommend that the property be sold to a developer, who was going to redevelop the buildings into senior housing at a cost of $2 million. That included cleaning up the site.