A Wabash firefighter sprays water onto a portion of the Yarnelle Lumber Co. on Wednesday evening, March 8. Photo by Emma Rausch
By Emma Rausch
Yarnelle Lumber Company, a 152-year-old Wabash business, is gone.
A fire engulfed the lumberyard, located at 295 W. Canal St. in Wabash, within a matter of minutes just before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 8.
Wabash Fire Department (WFD) responded to the scene at approximately 4:57 p.m., according to Fire Chief Barry Stroup.
However, by then, smoke rose high and clouded downtown Wabash.
High west winds gusted through Wabash on Wednesday and contributed to the fire’s movement through the lumberyard, Stroup said.
For several hours, the WFD, aided by Noble Township Fire Department, attempted to put out the flames.
All Wabash firefighters were requested at the scene, Stroup said.
Throughout the evening, the Wabash Police Department and Wabash County EMA helped control the traffic around the area and directed public to maintain a safe distance from the fire. The State Fire Marshal’s office also assisted at the scene while the Urbana and Roann Fire Departments covered the north Wabash and Noble Township areas during the fire.
The fire was considered controlled at 6 p.m., but wasn’t out, Stroup told The Paper of Wabash County.
“The last (WFD) unit cleared out at 2:16 a.m.,” he continued, referring to the official report.
The fire possibly started at a fuse box on the southwest side of the building, according to Linda Yarnelle, the business’s owner and wife of Ken Yarnelle.
“I had just left, but when I was walking out Ken smelled something electrical,” Mrs. Yarnelle told 105.9 the Bash. “He said, ‘Something’s hot.’ And our fuse box was making a buzzy noise and he had called an electrical company and Duke Energy and said, ‘Somebody’s got to come.’ And he had a fire extinguisher in hand and they couldn’t come because they had everybody out in the field.
“Then the winds just (took it).”
Within three minutes, the entire building was engulfed in flames. No injuries were reported.
For now, the exact cause of the fire is still considered undetermined and under investigation, according to Stroup.
Multiple factors brought about the lumberyard’s complete destruction, the fire chief said.
“There were many factors, with wind and the layout of the building being the major ones,” Stroup said. “Fuel in lumberyards is always a factor and the age of this building was also a factor. The south part of the building was basically open from one end to the other with the high winds out of the west.”
Smoke from the fire was so intense that the National Weather Service saw it on its radar. Officials there contacted the Wabash County Emergency Management Agency to see what was happening in the city.
The fire threatened three other buildings, the Wabash County YMCA, INGUARD and the Honeywell Center, as well as electrical lines and phone lines, according to Stroup.
“The Yarnelle Lumber building is a total loss,” Stroup said. “The YMCA had some damage, INGUARD appeared to have some smoke damage and it is unknown whether the Honeywell Center sustained any damage.”
Following the YMCA’s evacuation, as its staff joined other members of the community in watching the scene, the facility’s representatives released a statement.
“Our community was frightened this evening by a fire that raged right next door,” YMCA officials said. “We are devastated for the loss of a historic building. We are thankful none have been hurt. We are thankful the damage to neighboring buildings (like ours) is minimal. We are thankful for and impressed by our local fire department and EMS, who we credit for saving our Y.”
Duke Energy disabled the power lines for safety. Phone lines were damaged but to an unknown extent, according to Stroup.
“Electricity to some of downtown was disrupted due to the fire damaging poles and their proximity to the fire being a danger to firefighters,” he said.
The fire departments used approximately 3,000 gallons of water per minute at certain points to combat the flames, according to Jeremy Wayne, Indiana American Water representative.
Well into the night, firefighters fought flames and smoke with hoses.
However, the situation, while tragic, created an opportunity to support the first responders.
Citizens brought the firefighters, police officers and EMA personnel bottles of water, Gatorade, coffee, pizza “and encouragement during the incident,” Stroup said, adding that he’d like to offer a special thank you to those individuals.
“It is greatly appreciated,” he said.