Fire destroys century old factory in Muncie IN

Cause of fire at old Warner Machine plant determined arson

By Rick Yencer

MUNCIE, INDIANA (NEWS) -  A day after fire swept through an old three story factory, Muncie firefighters were still pouring water on the site that was too dangerous to enter.

Fire Chief Ed Bell said the old building once used by Warner Machine of Warner Gear days. Bell also said the site might be inspected this week after the Indiana Fire Marshall and local fire inspectors deemed it safe to enter.

And Bell, who confirmed every fire company and firefighter on duty was on the scene Saturday morning, initially said it might be difficult to find the cause with all the rubble, old timbers and bricks.

By Tuesday, investigators found evidence of arson, and were following up leads about who was last in the huge building.

The fire, accompanied by some explosions, began before 7 a.m. Saturday as neighbors found their homes damaged by the heat and flames that consumed the building at 1200 Rochester Ave., a dead end where industry once flourished in the community.

Frank Watt, a retired electrician who worked at Delco Battery, said he heard explosions and found the building on fire as fire trucks arrived Saturday morning. He said the property was mostly vacant and was last owned by a Pennsylvania pallet maker identified as Fochtman Brothers.

Watt pointed to the melted siding on his house and said others had damage from the intense heat of the blaze. A vacant property next to Watt did not burn as firefighters helped protect nearby properties.

Bell was unsure what might have been in the building, but confirmed electricity was on and firefighters at the scene thought there was paper and pallets that helped feed the blaze.

The building, constructed in 1895 and once was a piano factory, had three floors of heavy wood timbers that helped feed the blaze which did not tumble much of the brick building walls. 

That hollow shell was still there Sunday as an aerial fire company continued to pour water into the basement of the building.

Bell through the building could be too dangerous to ever enter and said he planned to talk with officials about whether the walls would be demolished.

 Fire officials offered no speculation about other uses of the old factory outside of reporting that minor fires had been reported at the site over the years.

The building had been part of the Warner Machine stable of factories a century ago when Warner Gear began its auto part manufacturing. For much of the century, it housed chemical companies and more recently the pallet maker.

The city had condemned the property recently, but there was no action to demolish it because of the tremendous cost.

It was the second major fire in the neighborhood recently after the old Vogue Cleaners on West Eighth Street burned two months ago.

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