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EARLIER: No sign of arson in Shelbyville fire

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Investigation continues as merchants deal with loss

By Lisa King

The blaze last week that left Shelbyville’s downtown streetscape with a gaping hole was not caused by an arsonist.

“We don’t suspect any arson,” Shelbyville Fire Chief Willard “Tiger” Tucker said Tuesday. “It’s all been passed over to the insurance investigators now.”

The fire last Wednesday morning destroyed three buildings between 614 and 620 Main Street and left another badly damaged. The popular restaurant Fiesta Mexicana, Creative Spirits Counseling Service and a consignment shop lie in rubble. The partially damaged building at 620 Main is vacant.

The buildings at 616 Main Street fell during the height of the fire, and those at 614 and 620 had to be bulldozed into a pile of rubble for removal, a process officials said should be completed by the end of the week.

Jim Reynolds owned all three of the buildings that are being razed, and Glenn and Mary Wiecek have the remaining small office. All will be working with insurers, as will the owners of Fiesta and Creative Spirits.

Tucker said local insurance agencies are working together to find a cause for the blaze, and that’s typical when a fire department investigation fails to determine the origin.

“With this type of claim, with multiple claims, the insurance investigators will spend time looking at it and actually working together,” he said.

That investigation is still under way, and Ray Baker, regional fire manager at Donan Engineering in Louisville, said his company was hired to do an independent investigation, a very common occurrence in this type of situation.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, insurance agencies hire people like us to do an independent fire investigation, to go in and see if we can determine the cause, which is what we do at Donan Engineering,” he said. “We have fire investigators, electrical engineers, just more resources and training than fire departments can provide.”

Insurance companies are interested in determining the cause of the fire because they want to know if it was caused by something such as a faulty appliance, for example, Baker said, so they will have someone to hold accountable in order to recoup some of their money back.

Does Baker think his company can pinpoint the cause of the blaze?

“We don’t always figure it out, but most of the time, we can find out what caused it,” he said. “But eighty percent of the time, they [insurance agencies] can’t get their money back. It’s just not recoverable.”

 

Other businesses affected

But the impact was on businesses was not limited to those buildings.

Pat Burnett owns the property just east of the fire – at 612 Main Street – and he had said last week that his warehouse for Wakefield-Scearce Gallery had some damage from smoke, and this week his street tenant, Computer Hawks, has had to relocate because of smoke damage.

On Tuesday, as GRA-KAT workers worked to fill about 20 Dumpsters with debris, each 30 yards long, George Banks, owner of Computer Hawks, picked desolately through his now empty shop on Tuesday, having been forced to move out because of smoke and heat damage to his some of his equipment.

But he said he is still in the business of repairing computers and supporting computer networks.

“My stuff was salvageable, but not all of my customers’ stuff was,” he said. “I had customers that lost a lot.

“My clients called me when they heard, and said, ‘Are my systems going to be OK? Am I going to be able to get on?’ I had about fifty phone calls from people who I run their servers and back up their systems. So we suffered a lot.

“We had to shut it down to move it out. But we moved it to a warehouse around the corner [to 1132 Equity Street], and there’s an office there. So I’m still in business.”

Officials of Creative Spirits issued a statement early Tuesday that said they plan to reopen their service and thanked the community for its support.

 “We would like to thank all for the thoughts and prayers that have been offered and displayed to those of us who have been impacted by the downtown Shelbyville fire,” said Cassandra Gray, owner counseling center. “Your genuine love and support is simply unforgettable.”

Mike Tracy, owner of Tracy’s Home Furnishings, said he wanted to reassure the public that even though there have been rumors floating around about smoke damage at his business, located east of Computer Hawks, that isn’t true.

“We just had some smoke up around the ceiling, but the furniture is fine,” he said.

Tracy said his insurance agency hired a cleaning crew for him, to clean the carpets and do what he calls a ‘wipe-down’ of the furniture, but those measures are just precautions.

 “I guarantee you that my furniture does not smell like smoke,” he said, adding that he has even had the furniture tested for traces of smoke and none has been found.

Debbie D’Angelo, manager of Tracy’s, said she really empathizes with Banks, who lost so much of his equipment.

“We’ve been helping George move out for the past few days,” she said. “It was a tough break for him.”

 

Thankful for escape

Banks said the situation could have been much worse, if not for Shelbyville firefighter John Hance. Banks said he was at the store, on the phone with Hance, when the fire broke out shortly after 4 a.m.

“I was here at the store, working on a Web site for a fire department, because it’s almost impossible to work on that kind of stuff in the daytime, because customers are coming in,” he said. “I was talking to him on the phone, and he said, ‘Dude is your building on fire?’

“I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ So I went downstairs, looked around, didn’t see anything. Thought I smelled a little bit of fire but went back upstairs. He called me back and said, ‘Hey man, there’s flames somewhere around there. You need to get out.’

“So I packed up what I could, and before I could get out, the police were beating on the door. So I made it out safely.”

Banks said he is very grateful to Hance, because he could very well have averted a tragedy.

“He saved my life,” he said. “The police did, too, but the first responders were the fire department. Not only did he save my life, but I had stuff in here that I was able to save. And that was a blessing. I had to leave a lot of stuff behind, but I was able to save some of my databases.”

Tracy said he is also grateful that no one died in the fire.

“I just thank the Lord for watching out for us,” he said. “I feel so sorry for the people that had losses, my heart goes out to them, and my prayers are with them, but at least we are all safe.”