Building ravaged by fire to be razed

More than a year after a massive fire gutted a Franklin industrial building, what’s left is ready to be cleaned up.

The building at 191 Commerce Drive, which had been home to three businesses, has been fenced off since the building burned about 15 months ago. What was left behind, including a scorched awning, burned support beams and a collapsed roof sloping down into the building, will be torn down and hauled away. Work could start as soon as next week.

The fire started in the northeast corner of the building Jan. 6, 2014, the day after about a foot of snow fell in Johnson County and the county was under a travel warning preventing many businesses from opening. Subzero temperatures made fighting the fire difficult, and freezing water further collapsed the roof and formed sheets of ice inches thick in the building.

It took several weeks before fire investigators were able to get a good look inside the building, and the insurance investigation continued for more than a year. But owner Randy Brown received an insurance payout at the beginning of March and immediately filed with the city for a demolition permit, community development specialist Rhoni Oliver said.

The demolition was delayed for about a month while asbestos checks were completed and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management signed off on the inspection, Oliver said.

“It should start coming down, should be the beginning of next week,” Oliver said. “I’m expecting it to be mostly down by next week.”

Brown did not return phone calls left Tuesday and Wednesday.

The building previously housed an office for Miller Chemical Tech, Fierce Allstars Cheerleading and Tumbling gym and Doug’s Franklin Auto Care Center. The office and gym were destroyed in the fire. The roof collapsed over the auto shop, but the business sustained minimal fire damage. All three have since moved to new locations.

The building has been an eyesore on Commerce Drive, located in the middle of a business park containing several small offices and industrial businesses. The broken windows are boarded up, and a chain-link fence surrounds the property.

Last month, the city filed an unsafe building order on the property to push for cleanup. But the lengthy insurance investigation was completed just before a hearing that could have ordered Brown to demolish the building or face potential fines, Oliver said.

The city previously was holding off on any efforts to force the cleanup because the property was secured so people couldn’t get inside the building.

Firefighters typically investigate right after the fire to try to pinpoint where a blaze started and what the cause was, as well as look for signs of arson, such as accelerants or tampering. But due to the amount of ice in the building, which was covering the ground and supporting some of the structure, investigators couldn’t get inside the building for weeks.

Franklin Fire Department investigators identified that the fire started in the attic of the northeast corner of the building but couldn’t determine a cause. The cause was ruled as undetermined in early April 2014, and the fire department closed the case. The private insurance company continued the investigation and recently issued a claim check, meaning its investigation is complete, Oliver said.