What started as a seemingly minor fire shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday destroyed an antique shop at Sherman Boulevard and Huffman Street and forced six people living in upstairs apartments to flee for their lives.
No one was injured in the fire, but the two-story building and virtually all its contents were destroyed.
Rick Meyer, owner of Meyer Creek Antiques, said the fire kept growing because crews were unable to turn off the natural gas. He said that the fire would be put out but then the building would fill with gas and the fire would restart.
Properties within 500 feet of the building were evacuated after a small explosion forced firefighters to fall back until the gas could be turned off. The flames forced NIPSCO to dig for a shut-off point away from the building, the fire department said.
Six houses and 10 people were affected by the evacuation order, the fire department said.
Once the gas was shut off, firefighters battled the blaze from outside because the flames had compromised the structure’s integrity. The fire was brought under control about five hours after it was reported. Crews used heavy equipment to tear the building apart to reach flames that remained inside the walls. Later, what was left of the building was razed.
Meyer said he suspected arson may have been to blame. He said a neighbor reported seeing a person walking from his building and crossing the street about 5 a.m. carrying a gas can.
Fire Chief Amy Biggs said investigators are looking into that report and have not ruled out arson as a possibility, but she added that the cause is so far undetermined.
Meyer said his tenants in the four apartments upstairs included some children, but they were the first ones out and actually were able to wake up other residents. Fire officials said four adults and two children safely escaped the blaze on their own.
Meyer said his tenants essentially lost everything they had but that much of the furniture in the apartments was his. The American Red Cross was called to help those displaced by the blaze, fire officials said.
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 an 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.”
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