Fire Causes Heavy Damage Monday At Local Plant of Rochelle Furniture Co.

Part of Flaming Tank Hurled Two and one-Half Blocks Start Blaze in Roof of Arnold Home
Firemen from Warsaw, Winona Lake, Atwood and Leesburg Battle Fires for Several Hours and Save Parts of Two Buildings

Fire of unknown origin caused damage of many thousand dollars to the Rochelle Furniture manufacturing plant., North Detroit street, late Monday afternoon. One large building, consisting of an assembly room, finishing room and mill room, was completely gutted as firemen from Warsaw, Winona Lake, Leesburg and Atwood battled the furious blaze for several hours. The apartment house of Mr. and Mrs. Wade C. Arnold, located on East Arthur street, two and one half blocks southeast of the factory, was also gutted on the top floor when half of a flaming paint thinner tank was blown onto the roof of the residence from the furniture plant blaze.

John W. Beckwith, president of the furniture plant, said today that it was imposible to determine the extent of the loss. He was in Chicago when the fire broke out Monday, and did not reach his Warsaw home until early Tuesday morning. He said insurance covered the plant and its contents.

The fire broke out at approximately 3:30 o'clock in the one-story, metal building, destroying machinery and gutting the cabinet and finishing room. A fisherman on Center lake first noticed the blaze, which appeared to be a grass fire behind the furniture plant. He reported the blaze as being a grass fire, and no alarm was sounded. However, when fire truck driver Loren Melick reached the plant, he saw immediately that the large building was ablaze. He sounded a general alarm and soon all volunteer firemen in Warsaw were battling the fire. Atwood and Leesburg also responded, as did Winona Lake's two pumpers. Both of Warsaw's pumpers were used, making a total of six fire trucks at the scene.

Upstairs Badly Gutted
When the Arnold home started blazing on the roof, Mr. Arnold was down stairs listening to the finish of the 500-mile race taking place at Indianapolis. Mrs. Arnold was at the scene of the other blaze.Mr. Arnold did not notice that the second story was ablaze until neighbors saw smoke pouring from the roof.

Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Miller, Jr. who lived in in the second-story rooms of the apartment house, were not at home when the fire started. Much of the furniture and clothing was saved from the house as people watching the fire quickly volunteered for duty. The Atwood truck with its new "fog" hose, went from the furniture plant to the Arnold home. Unable to get the necessary pressure to stop the fire, the Atwood department was soon joined by Winona Lake's number two pumper. However the upstairs of the house was badly gutted, and the lower story was damaged badly by fire and water.

Protect Gas Storage
Three gasoline storage tanks at the Band City oil station, located just south of the flaming furniture company were prevented from exploding as firemen played a steady stream of water on the tanks throughout the fire. The gasoline station barely escaped burning as flames reach toward the roof and sides of the station several times.

Two warehouses and the office of the furniture company were saved. Mr. Beckwith said today that it was impossible to determine whether or not any of the machinery in the gutted building could be salvaged.

Despite the intense heat of the flames, no firemen were seriously injured. Hundreds of curious people quickly gathered at the furniture plant, and city police officers were required to stop traffic on road 15.

Fireman William Walgamuth, Jr. was given a tetanus shot at the McDonald hospital when his shoulder was cut by a piece of falling roof. Several other firemen with Walgamuth at the time, escaped injury. Numerous minor injuries were given first-aid treatment at the scene of the fire.

37 Employed at Plant
It was more than three hours after the blaze first was reported that it was brought under control. Even then Warsaw firemen were called back several times during the night to extinguish parts of the charred ruins that kept breaking out in small fires.

Mr. Beckwith said today that approximately 37 persons were employed by the furniture company. All were without jobs today. The plant was closed for the Memorial Day holiday Monday, and no watchman was on duty when the fire started.

The furniture company plant, which manufactured a complete line of nursery furniture, was located at the north edge of Warsaw and on the east bank of Center lake. Some people reported that as many as 16 explosions occurred when the naphtha tank and lacquer drums, sitting outside the building, caught on fire. Some of the lacquer drums soared into the air, many landing in Center lake, causing fisherman to row toward shore for safety.

Praise for Firemen
The furniture plant was purchased in 1943 from Raymond Korth, of Warsaw, by Max Mollencamp, of Rochelle, Ill., and John W. Beckwith, of this city. Mr. Mollencamp, vice president of the company, is now in Missouri, where he is employed in the retail business. Mr. Beckwith is president and treasurer of the plant. Edward Jobe, of Warsaw, is foreman.

Warsaw firemen were quick to praise the Atwood, Leesburg and Winona Lake departments for their co-operation in helping to fight the fires at the furniture plant and Arnold home. Also, many men and women in the large crowd volunteered for duty and helped carry furniture and clothing from the Arnold home to safety. Warsaw firemen said that help also came from Bill and Louis Goshert, managers of the Gafill Oil company, who filled one of their large gasoline trucks with water and rushed it to the furniture plant. Warsaw police officers stayed on duty for additional hours to assist in handling heavy traffice at the scene.

The Arnold home reportedly was only partially covered by insurance. Warsaw firemen were called there again Tuesday morning when the fire again broke out. It was quickly extinguished.

Warsaw Daily Times Tuesday June 1, 1948.

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