Chief: Building stable, investigation continues four weeks after fire
Friday marks four weeks since the fate of a block of historic downtown Greencastle hung precariously in the balance as a ravaging fire gained a mid-morning foothold just east of the courthouse square.
That May 17 blaze and the extreme ramifications it might have had and the tactics necessary to bring it under control without loss of life or the structural integrity of the buildings it damaged are still foremost in the mind of Greencastle Fire Chief Bill Newgent.
He took a few moments before the City Council Tuesday night to thank the people and organizations that helped fight that fire and deal with the fallout from the damage.
"I need to publicly thank so many people," Newgent said from the podium at City Hall, praising the 16 departments and 100 fire personnel that responded for doing "a tremendous job" overall and "a great job in being able to confine the fire to one area."
Greencastle firefighters in particular were tireless in their efforts to control the blaze and assure the least damage and displacement possible.
"My guys went above and beyond," Newgent said, "and as you can see, because of that, we have significant buildings still standing."
That, he said, would not have been possible "without the aggressive nature of those firefighters doing their jobs and being well trained."
The fire chief also told the City Council that the investigation into the cause remains ongoing. Regardless, the fire is undoubtedly accidental and likely began somewhere in the roof area along a back porch, "possibly around a ceiling fan," he said.
A structural engineer from the Indiana Landmarks historic preservation organization was called to the scene the day of the fire and returned the next day as well to inspect the buildings affected by the blaze.
"We have received a report that the structure is stable," Newgent said. "And we're happy to say we do have a lot of activity going on up there.
"It's a setback," Newgent assured, especially for people like Lester and Judy Wilson and family who lost their business location and their upstairs residence and Dr. Perry Wainman, whose longtime dental practice was a victim of the blaze.
"But we're going to rebuild and move forward," the fire chief noted. "And a lot of care was taken to make sure we had something to rebuild."
Mayor Sue Murray, who was at the fire scene much of the day, remains impressed by how the incoming firefighters were able to fall right in place, assisting GFD.
"It was amazing to see as the other units arrived on the scene who they were seamlessly integrated" into the firefighting effort, the mayor said Tuesday night.
Council member Jinsie Bingham agreed, saying city residents should be proud of the efforts made that day.
"I think it's comforting to the citizens of Greencastle and Putnam County," she said, "that you and your department are so well trained."
Again, Newgent thanked those who augmented his department's efforts.
"It's good to know," he said, "that when we ask for assistance, we will get it."
He singled out groups like the Wabash Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross for assisting not only the displaced residents and business owners but in dispensing water and food for the firefighters at the scene.
Newgent also praised all city utility departments for their assistance, as well as the nearby Masonic Temple for providing a place for affected persons to go and regroup or rest.
Numerous local businesses and area merchants also donated food and water to the cause, the chief noted.
"The outpouring of concern by our community was just unbelievable," Newgent said, adding that such efforts make him proud to live here and represent such a community.
On a lighter note, the fire chief did take a moment to dispel a rumor that firefighters used one million gallons of water to fight the downtown fire.
"We actually used 190,000 gallons of water," Newgent clarified. "It probably just seemed like a million gallons."