Properties within 500 feet of a Fort Wayne apartment and retail building were evacuated Tuesday morning after a small explosion forced firefighters to fall back.
What started as a seemingly minor fire about 5:20 a.m. Tuesday destroyed an antique shop at Sherman Boulevard and Huffman Avenue and forced nine people living in four upstairs apartments to flee for their lives.
Six houses were also evacuated, according to the Fort Wayne Fire Department. No one was injured, but the building and virtually all of its contents were destroyed.
NIPSCO was forced to dig for a shut off point away from the fire, and it recommended the evacuation, the fire department said.
Rick Meyer, owner of Meyer Creek Antiques, said the fire kept growing because crews were unable to turn off the gas. He said that the fire would be put out, but then the building would fill with gas and the fire would restart.
Hours after the fire was reported, fire crews were still struggling with the blaze, using heavy equipment to tear the building apart to get at flames that remained inside the walls. Later, what remained of the structure was razed.
Meyer said the occupants of the apartments upstairs included some children, but they were the first ones to get out, and actually were able to wake up other residents. He said the occupants essentially lost everything they had, but much of the furniture in the apartments was his.
The antique shop, which specialized in vintage jewelry and one-of-a-kind postcards from the 1800s through the 1920s as well as furniture, lost almost everything it had, with the exception of one armful of vintage jewelry, a handful of photographs and the framed first dollar the shop had made.
"Thirty years of collecting" gone, Meyer said. "I'm thankful no one got hurt and the dog wasn't there:"
Meyer, who said he was also a tool and die maker, said he also lost $50,000 worth of high end tools in the basement.
Meyer said he had owned the building for about two years, and had only recently rented out all the apartments in the building. Business was starting to make progress. He said he sells rare postcards all over the country and customers would come from as far away as Pennsylvania.
"I loved this corner," Meyer said. "I looked for two years for a place I could afford."
Fire officials said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
The Red Cross was called to assist those in need after the fire.
Anne Gregory contributed to this story.