FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Demolition work continued Thursday at the downtown St. Joseph Hospital after an accidental fire weakened the 4-story structure, prompting concerns that the wall along Main Street could collapse.
At one point, bricks fell from the top of the building. A WANE 15 caught the scene on video. The new hospital across Van Buren Street was open Thursday as usual.
Deputy Fire Chief Adam O’Connor said his department closed the block on Main Street between Broadway and Van Buren with barricades and fencing, working with nearby businesses to make sure they could still operate.
The city said Friday the block of Main Street between Broadway and Van Buren Street would be closed until June 27.
Police at the scene Wednesday told WANE 15 there was concern the building wasn’t structurally sound and construction crews might have to knock the rest of it down, resulting in long-term road closures. Natalie Eggeman, city spokesperson, said Thursday that the city hoped to have more information on the closure once the city’s Right of Way department has done its investigation.
Lutheran Health Network spokesperson, Megan Hubartt, said “the demolition remains on schedule with completion expected by the end of the year,” adding that hospital staff appreciated the “prompt response of the Fort Wayne Fire Department.”
Hubarrt added they expect that block of Main Street to be closed for about three weeks because of demolition.
O’Connor said the fire broke out around 6 p.m., probably due to some welding on the top floor. Some of the embers dropped down into the wall space, starting an insulation fire.
“Anytime there’s a fire in a hidden space, it makes it more difficult for us to extinguish the fire,” said O’Connor. Fire crews were on the scene for four hours and the Fort Wayne Police Department monitored the situation overnight, making sure no pedestrians came near the wall.
“The fire smoldered for probably more than an hour and then eventually water found its way to the smoldering embers,” said O’Connor. But the greatest concern was that the metal strips connecting the brick façade to the masonry wall had been weakened by the fire.
“My concern last night was that the brick façade was going to collapse in the street and crush or injure anyone in the collapse zone,” O’Connor said.
He consulted with the Allen County Building Department and a local architect who confirmed FWFD’s concerns and agreed the area should be secured.
Local resident Robert Griswold went to the site Wednesday evening to see fire and police at the site he’s called his hospital for 64 years.
“I was shocked, devastated by it burning,” Griswold said. “I seen all kinds of police, fire trucks. They were putting it out. I couldn’t see the fire.”
Seeing debris fall from the building did scare him a little, but Griswold said he had faith in the demolition.
“They know what they’re doing or they wouldn’t be in the kind of business they’re in,” Griswold said Thursday on a return visit.