Moose Lodge, 4 Business Firms Perish in Flames

Damage Estimates Approach $750,000

More than 125 volunteer firemen waged a four-hour long battle last night to bring under control a blaze that razed the three-story, half-block-long Moose Lodge building, destroying four street level businesses and for a time threatened other large sections of the downtown area.

Accumulated losses, including destruction of the 93-year-old building and all contents, was estimated at between $500,000 and $750,000.

Firemen from virtually every fire-fighting unit in the county braved the intense heat, the constant hazards of 60-foot high crumbling brick walls and raining white hot chunks of cinders and other flying debris to confine the blaze to the quarter block area.

Fire units from as far away as Columbia City and Churubusco came to the aid of local departments. Firemen also were made to dodge heavy voltage power lines that were being snapped off like matchsticks as flames consumed the building.

Most Damaging
Last night's disaster was described as probably the most damaging in the city's 113-year history. More than a million and one-half gallons of water were poured on the blazing inferno by nine pumpers. A total of 11 pumpers and five tankers were on the scene. Water was pumped onto the building had a rate of 100 gallons a second.

The blazing hot cinder chunks fanned by a 10-15 mph southerly wind splashed and pelted rooftops in the adjacent business block for more than 100 yards distance. Firemen were dispatched to the tops of these buildings to water down and stamp out fires as they were spotted. A two-foothold was burned in the roof of the nearby Kline Department Store across the street, but was quickly extinguished by total worked volunteers.

At the height of the blaze flames shot skyward for more than 150 feet and were easily visible for a distance of nearly twenty miles in all directions from the city.

A four-man crew under the direction of a Leesburg volunteer poured hundreds of gallons of water on The Times Bldg. roof and south wall to prevent a spreading of the fire. The building, home of The Times-Union, is located directly across the street from the Moose Lodge.

The building has been the home of the local Moose Lodge for the past 40 years or longer. The Lodge owns the two top floors and the barbershop site on the street level. The top floor is on occupied. The remaining three business quarters on the street level and located to the west of the barbershop are owned by local businessman, William Chinworth, of Argonne Rd. These house the firms of Miller's Mens and Boys Wear (Charles Miller), the Lowery Sewing Center (Harold Lowery) and Fribley Market (Wayne Fribley). All three are local businessmen.

Stocks, building contents, including fixtures and accounts receivable lost in the blaze by the four business firms are estimated at nearly $300,000.

Loss Extensive
Heaviest single loser was the Miller's Mens and Boys store, with damages expected to reach nearly the $200,000 mark, stated owner Charles Miller. Dewey Lawshe estimated a sustained loss of $15,000 to his barbershop. Harold Lowery stated today his damages would total approximately $50,000 in merchandise and other fixtures and equipment. Wayne Fribley stated his food service losses would exceed possibly $30,000. Chinworth's estimated loss could not be determined at press-time, but it is known that he spent at least $25,000 probably more in modernizing the three store fronts less than a year ago.

Origin of the blaze has not been definitely determined, City Fire Chief Norman Banghart stated today. However from witnesses it has been determined that the fire began at the building's west end, possibly from the second floor.

Heavy Explosion
Only seconds after an alarm was turned in by 25-year old Sharon Drumheller, a lodge room bartender, a heavy explosion tore out the west wall, blocking the adjacent alleyway with piles of brick, debris and twisted telephone and power lines. Shock from the explosion was felt within an area of three to four blocks away.

The alarm was received at the city fire station at 9:30 p.m. Only two other persons were in the lodge at the time. They were Robert Dougherty, 46 and Robert Roberts, both of Warsaw. When the trio spotted the blaze, the entire west wall was in flames.

Escape Building
Roberts and Dougherty attempted to take a fire extinguisher from a nearby wall after first seeing the blaze, but were thwarted by intense heat and smoke. The three escaped from the building from the second floor barroom via steps at the northeast end of the building. No other persons were in the building at the time the explosion was first felt. As the trio was escaping down the stairway the explosion shook several wall pictures off the hangers in the foyer.

Two youthful witnesses to the explosion were 16-year old Michael Olinger, son of Mr. and Mrs. Rex Smith of 547 East Center St., and his companion, James Spigutz 15, son of Mrs. Arthur Spigutz of 810 West Canal St., Winona Lake.

Boys Startled
The boys were walking down the south alley in the rear of the building and across the downtown parking lot when they were startled by an explosion and large blue flash that blew out the west wall. They were narrowly missed from being hit by a falling high tension line. They estimated time of the explosion at approximately 9:30 p.m. Both are Warsaw High School students, Olinger a sophomore, Spigutz a freshman.

Both witnesses said the explosion and flames appeared to be coming from the west end of the building and to be shooting out the second and third floors. They estimated their distance away at time of explosion at approximately 50 yards.

Firemen were able to save the frame offices of Dr. J. R. Baum and Dr. Winton Thomas. The offices, located to the rear of the Moose Building, face South Indiana Street.

Three other witnesses also told of seeing the blue flash of an explosion at the west end of the building. They reported that the explosion appeared to have originated from the second floor. These witnesses were in automobiles stopped on Indiana St., by a traffic light while headed south, facing the building fronting on Market.

In one automobile were John Russell, 20 of Bucyrus, Ohio and a companion 20 year old Kenneth Bertrum, of Rochester, N.Y. Both are employed by the North Electric Co., of Galion, Ohio doing telephone installation work here for the United Telephone Company.

In another automobile was Forrest Croop, Warsaw Community Schools administrator, who verified the formers' statements.

Window Broken
The explosion broke out a window in the second story of the Brennan Drug Store across the alley to the west, setting a storage room afire. However, firemen quickly extinguished this blaze immediately upon arriving at the scene. Had not this fire been spotted immediately by Frank Brennan, following the explosion it could have been the origin of the blaze that could have threatened the second quarter block to the west.

City Patrolman Ted Dobbins was checking nearby downtown doors when he heard the explosion. He stated that in a period of less than three minutes following the explosion flames had already spread from one end to the other of the building.

Following the explosion the south section of the city to its limits at Walnut Creek was blacked out without electrical power for sometime. Power lines serving nearby rural areas to the west and south of the city also were severed, causing blackouts.

Radio Stations WRSW AM-FM who broadcast on-the-scene descriptions of the blaze from the steps of The Times Building, were knocked off the air by power failure, but returned immediately via use of an emergency standby generator.

Rapid fire, on-the-spot broadcasts were done by Jack Essenburg and Duane Pagel, WRSW staff members. These, along with William K. (Bill) Mollenhour, a Times-Union photographer at the scene, narrowly escaped injury when a crumbling north wall sent bricks hurling their way. One brick smashed in a large plate glass window located in The Times Building foyer. The trio was standing outside on the sidewalk just below the window when it struck.

Mollenhour Injured

Other rolling debris from the falling wall smashed in numerous windows of The Times Union newsroom, located in the basement. Mollenhour was struck on the right ankle by a rolling brick, causing painful injury, but he continued to take his pictures despite the hurt. He was the only known person injured.

Lowery was able to salvage only a few of his customers' sewing machines in for repair, some files, when driven from his store by heavy smoke and intense heat. The Kline department Store sustained heavy smoke damage. Smoke also filled The Times Building.

Saves Barber Pole
A volunteer fireman singlehandedly dragged a more than 400-lb barber chair from the Lawshe barbershop. The only other item saved in the building was a valued barber pole given to Lawshe by his mother, Dixie, purchased while the latter was abroad. The pole was from Dublin, Ireland. Firemen saved this pole for Lawshe, a colleague volunteer fireman.

The building was burning fiercely when first fire unites arrived at the scene shortly after the 9:30 p.m. alarm was given. Winona Lake firemen, headed by Chief Bruce Howe, were in a meeting when notified of the conflagration. They proceeded immediately to Warsaw.

Two walls of the nearly century old building (it was constructed in 1873 as an opera house) collapsed at the height of the blaze. A south wall was in danger of collapsing at any time and Pennsylvania trains passing through the city were ordered to proceed at speeds limited to 10 miles an hour. The precaution was taken to avoid ground vibrations that might collapse the remaining wall.

Sparks from the blaze were seen to spread some five or more blocks northward some entering residential sections of the city.

Sealed Off Traffic
The downtown area was sealed off to traffic by police, assisted by Civil Defense groups headed by Milo Clase and KEMRAD units in charge of Gene Gregory. Guards continued to be posted around the building throughout the night and this morning.

Power services to much of the area was disrupted as flames burned out transformers and lines. City police radio communication was knocked off the air by power failure. All available ambulance services were in the fire area. No reports of injury, however, have been reported. Crashing of the walls could be heard for blocks away as well as what were described as small explosions. Northern Indiana Public Service Co. employees had the hazardous task of cutting off five gas lines leading into the structure.

County units answering Warsaw's call for assistance included departments from Winona Lake, Claypool, Silver Lake, Mentone, Leesburg, Atwood, Syracuse, North Webster, Burket, Milford and Etna Green.

An Editorial (Curtis Garber)
Firemen we salute you all! The City of Warsaw, its entire community, today owes you a debt of gratitude which can never be repaid.

You many volunteers, who came from near and far to save our city's downtown business section from possible total destruction will never learn our full appreciation. Wards are impossible to describe it. When we witnessed glowing embers showering the rooftops of many downtown buildings, we braced ourselves for the worst.

You saved our city. We thank you from the bottoms of our hearts.

October13, 1967
Looking South West on Market Street

Warsaw Opera House Interior
Second floor auditorium & huge stage.
Picture from stereocard

Warsaw Times-Union Friday October 13, 1967

NOTE: Be sure to read article titled History of Old Opera House, published same day.

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