RENSSELAER — The Indiana State Fire Marshal’s office recently released its findings in the Nov. 17 town mall fire in Rensselaer.
Due to large amounts of scattered debris and the square footage of the building, a “definitive cause of the fire remains undetermined,” a state fire marshal representative said in a press release on Thursday.
Prior to the release of the fire marshal’s report, fire chief Kenny Haun who also serves as building commissioner for the City of Rensselaer, was informed of at least one item.
“They did rule out foul play,” Haun said Thursday afternoon. “At least we were told that.”
Haun, state fire marshal Fred Sumpter, investigators from several insurance companies attached to the building and business owners impacted by the fire did an on-site evaluation of the fire’s remains prior to the holidays.
Since there is no cause listed for the fire, which began during mid-afternoon hours on Nov. 17 and continued through Nov. 18, what happens next is in the hands of the insurance companies tied to the mall, located at the corner of Van Rensselaer and Kellner streets.
One of those steps is the removal of the tons of debris from the site. The fire affected 22 businesses with office space inside the mall, which was built in 1928 and once housed a Sears store.
“Once they start, clean-up shouldn’t be too long,” Haun said. “The last indication I got was it could be done by the end of January.”
Among those forced to find office space elsewhere were two law offices, Dr. Moyers’ optometry, two hair salons, the Jasper County Development Organization, a hearing aid business and Express One Professionals, which helps people find jobs.
“Some businesses found space elsewhere in town,” Haun said. “I’m told some work out of their homes and others haven’t reopened at all.”
Nearly 75 volunteer firefighters battled the large blaze, directing heavy amounts of water to the back of the building where the former Long’s Gifts and From the Needpoint was housed. That business space was recently used by the Honey Comb hair salon and Serenity Health and Wellness.
Rensselaer Mayor Steve Wood marveled at the firefighters’ ability to keep the fire contained in the town mall location. Besides Rensselaer fire, departments from Monticello, DeMotte-Keener Township, Wheatfield, Hebron, Monon, Remington and Lake Hills also responded to the blaze.
Monticello brought its aerial truck to help firefighters get a better handle of the situation.
“If we hadn’t had all of those departments,” Wood said, “who knows if we could have kept it from spreading. They all did great work.”