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Fire destroys building in downtown Valparaiso

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Updated: March 29, 2013 4:10PM



VALPARAISO — An investigator with the state fire marshal’s office has put off going into 204 Lincolnway, gutted early Monday morning in a fire, until the building can be stabilized.

Dan Lamb, fire investigator and assistant chief for the Valparaiso Fire Department, said the building is too badly damaged for investigators to go inside and they would not be going in Monday.

“We don’t know what the cause is yet, but we know it started on the south end,” on the first floor of the two-story building, Lamb said.

Shortly after noon, partial demolition began on the south side of building, along Michigan Avenue, to stabilize the structure. The two-story building was constructed in 1905.

Lamb said he expected a full demolition to take place in the next couple of days. Several blocks downtown around the scene of the fire were closed, and should be open Tuesday.

Duane Thormahlen, whose father Robert owns the building, arrived on the scene after firefighters received a call about the fire at 1:29 a.m. His family has owned the building, which had nine tenants, since the late 1970s.

“It’s the worst day of my life,” he said.

The structure, on the southeast corner of Lincolnway and Michigan Avenue, was one of the first commercial buildings built downtown and still standing, he said.

He called the destruction and demolition of the building “devastating,” and said at one time, a dance hall was on its second floor. The building also housed a buggy manufacturer and was an Armed Forces recruiting office in the past.

More recently, it housed an alterations business, counseling offices, a bead shop and a barbershop, as well as a mortgage company. Jeff Svantner, branch manager of Sistar Mortgage, watched with one of his employees as demolition began.

He’d been in the building for more than five years, and had been checking photos online after he found out about the fire.

“When you get down here and see it, it’s a totally different experience,” he said, adding his business will go on because, thanks to technology, all of his clients’ files were backed up. “But you can’t back up personal memorabilia and memories.”

Since the photos he saw online showed the façade of the building, he first hoped the building might be all right.

“It looked like we still had a chance,” he said. “That’s not the case.”

Firefighters were called to the scene after a passerby spotted the fire. By the time they arrived, flames were shooting through the roof and smoke was billowing out of the building.

One firefighter was treated at Porter Regional Hospital for smoke inhalation and returned to the scene, and another fell on the ice but declined medical treatment, Lamb said. No other injuries were reported.

The Washington Township and Morgan Township fire departments assisted at the scene, and the Porter County Emergency Management Agency also was on site with its command vehicle.



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