Abandoned buildings draw concern for fire marshal's office

INDIANAPOLIS - Tuesday afternoon, investigators were waiting to gain access to that southeast side manufacturing site that caught fire this week. Fire officials said the building has not seen a recent inspection because they couldn’t get access to it.

RTV6 learned approval was finally given around 5 p.m. for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to collect samples from the interior of the building.

Fire inspectors said they showed up at the building, located at 1545 E. Van Buren St., twice this year – once in March, and again in July. Both times, they said they couldn’t get hold of the owner to give them access.

"Used to be, man, just all kind of hoodlums up and down through here, drug dealers and all that," resident Robert Williams said.

Williams is talking about his neighborhood and the abandoned buildings that surround him. Tuesday, the burned-down former home of the Holcomb & Hoke Manufacturing Co. is getting demolished.

But others remain.

The Indianapolis fire marshal's office estimates there are close to 6,000 vacant or abandoned businesses in the city.

"Vacant properties – it’s a problem because you don't know what's in them," Fire Marshal Fred Pervine said.

Fire investigators would like to know what was in this one, which is an old abandoned manufacturing site on the city's southeast side that caught fire this week.

The Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) said although the Department of Code Enforcement has restricted the entry of investigators into the building due to structural integrity issues, the type of non-intrusive sampling done by the EPA will allow for inspectors to step inside and work quickly with minimal possible disruption of the structure.

IFD said the random debris samples collected by the EPA will be processed and analyzed to ensure investigators get complete information about the hazards that could be located inside the building.

Pervine said his office tries to inspect vacant properties once a year. They visited this site twice: once in March and again in July. Both times they failed to get the building owner's cooperation.

"We run into that quite a bit,” Pervine said. “Our problem comes when the owner is out of state or out of country and the building is vacant – it’s a little bit challenging trying to get in to conduct an annual inspection."

There are legal steps the fire marshal’s office can take to gain access to a building if the owners can’t be found or repeatedly ignore inspection requests.

Officials said this particular property had not reached that point yet.

IFD said in order for investigators to fully process the site for the cause and origin of the fire, they must move or remove large piles of debris, which could compromise the stability of the remaining walls.

"Their efforts inside the structure continue to remain on hold," IFD Captin Rita Burris said. "They will move forward with their investigation outside the structure."

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