Most fires do their fair share of damage, but in Elkhart, crews are dealing with the destruction of an entire city block.
Just before 2 a.m. Sunday, firefighters were called to an inferno in the 600-block of East Street; less than a 30 second drive from the city’s central fire station.
"This isn’t something you see every day. We usually don't lose all three buildings, but it was a lost cause when we pulled up, it was fully involved,” Elkhart Fire Dept. Division Chief Kent Stouder said.
In fact the blaze was so problematic; it shut-off power downtown and at the city's police and fire stations. It also injured a firefighter and sent three tenants to a Fort Wayne hospital with burn wounds and smoke inhalation. While their names have yet to be released, hospital officials say all three are in critical, but stable condition.
"They really only had one door, one exit and that exit was facing the building on fire. We had flames and smoke that firefighters were going through to reach them, it was a difficult situation,” Stouder added.
By Monday afternoon, there were a lot of rumors milling about, but investigators were at a standstill when it came to pinpointing a cause. Crews say the fire moved so quickly and with such great force, it left no evidence behind.
Investigators do know things sparked in an abandoned building, formerly known as Tony’s Shoe Shop before spreading to neighboring Lifeline - Youth for Christ Center and an apartment triplex. The vacant structure was no stranger to Elkhart’s Code Enforcement Department, which had recently deemed it uninhabitable because of a leaky roof and unstable foundation wall. Consequently, the brick building had no running water, electricity or natural gas service, ruling out any chance of an electrical fire or gas leak.
"I enjoy the challenge, you come to this big mess and you try to figure out what happened, that's what I enjoy about investigating, but sometimes it's too far gone. You're not going to determine what it is and it bothers you a little bit, but it just doesn't happen sometimes,” Stouder remarked.
According to a July 2012 study conducted by Allstate Insurance, fire damage is a renter's number one concern. After all, 54 percent of renters say it would take three-to-four years to replace everything they own. Even so, only 45 percent of renters nationwide currently maintain an insurance policy.
A State Farm Insurance broker in South Bend told NewsCenter 16, most renters pay around $115 per year to insure valuables up to $10,000; a minimal investment for overall peace of mind.