COLUMBUS, Ind. — The cause of a fire on Dec. 3 in Columbus that led to a building collapse will remain undetermined.
The fire left three firefighters with minor injuries and one part of the building at "a total loss," according to firefighters.
The Columbus Fire Department said investigators combed through the debris for days, but due to the collapse concern, the investigation was limited.
“The fire will remain undetermined due to the fact that the building is too unsafe to conduct further investigation as is outlined under the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards,” said Troy Todd, Columbus Fire Department investigator.
A ground level storage building attached to the rear of both 422 Fifth St. and 440 Fifth St. is where the fire started.
Firefighters spent eight hours on Dec.4 investigating the cause of the early Sunday morning fire at 422 Fifth St. in downtown Columbus.
The two main portions of the building that caught fire — 422 and 440 Fifth Street — were office buildings with no residents.
The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, Bailey and Wood Financial Group, Arnholt and Staggs Law Office and TD Advertising are among the tenants, with several other businesses leasing space in the buildings.
Investigators believe the fire started at the back of the building on the street level, but the cause of the fire is still unknown.
They sifted through debris and, as part of the investigation, cadaver dogs searched the area where the fire started, but didn't find any human remains.
Firefighters said they could only investigate at the street-level portion of the building because the building was so damaged and there were concerns it could collapse further.
The fire engulfed the building just before midnight on Saturday. A passerby saw flames and called 911.
The building was "well-involved" when firefighters arrived and part of the single-story portion at the back of the building collapsed.
As firefighters searched for anybody inside, a cat ran out of a business in the 422 building before smoke and flames caused firefighters to evacuate and work the fires from the street.
A large portion of the third-story façade of 422 Fifth St. collapsed, narrowly missing a firefighter, and raining debris on a firetruck as it was directing water into upper-floor windows. No firefighters were on the ladder when the building collapsed, but the damage to the firetruck took it out of service.
Three firefighters had minor injuries at the scene but returned to work later.
It took about four hours and 1.2 million gallons of water to gain control of the fire due to freezing temperatures.
Fire separation walls between 422 and 440 Fifth Street kept the fire damage contained to the 422 building.
Two portions of 422 Fifth Street collapsed during the fire: Part of the back of the building and a large portion of the third-story façade. Investigators assessed the damage and determined 422 5th Street a "total loss."
440 Fifth Street had water and smoke damage. Businesses in that part of the building were able to go assess damage and salvage what they could from the office spaces there over the weekend.
Flames also damaged electrical lines, and part of the downtown area was without power during the fire.
The building's electric and water utilities are expected to remain out of service until life safety and building fire protection systems can be assessed and repaired, firefighters said.
A Columbus Fire Department truck was also damaged in one of the partial building collapses. The firetruck will remain out of service pending a damage assessment and repairs.
Firefighters seek information
Investigators are asking anyone with information to come forward.
People with information are asked to call Columbus Fire Department investigators at 812-376-2583.