A memo from Hillsboro’s building inspector directs firefighters not to enter buildings on much of the 100 block of West Main Street in the event of a fire due to structural instability.
The memo came three days after the front of a three-story building at 119 W. Main St. collapsed Monday, leaving an adjacent structure vulnerable and setting off worry of further collapses down the street.
Anton Weissman, the city’s chief building inspector, said in the directive that properties encompassed in his order are 115, 117, 119, 125, 127, 129, 131, 133, 135 and 137 W. Main St., representing much of the city block across from the Highland County Courthouse.
The addresses begin at the former Slow & Low Barbecue building and end at the old Parker House near the end of the block, but do not include Cundiff’s Flowers or Classics Real Estate, two active businesses immediately west of the collapsed structure.
Lt. Branden Jackman, public information officer for the Paint Creek Joint EMS/Fire District, said the district will take the directive under consideration, but in the event of a fire at any of those properties, firefighters will first determine if they are inhabited before deciding whether or not to enter.
“We are very cautious in categorizing something as vacant until we can determine that it is truly vacant,” Jackman said. “We have a mantra in the fire service: We risk a lot for a lot, a little for a little, and nothing for nothing. So, breaking that down, we’ll risk a life for a life, but if at all possible, we try not to risk a life for property.”
Jackman said all buildings on fire become structurally unstable at some point, and the buildings in question pose a higher risk level because they are already unsafe.
In any case, Jackman said, “We’re going to make an educated decision to keep the residents of the district as safe as possible,” adding that Weissman’s letter “is one more piece of information we’ll use to make our decision.”
Via Jackman, Paint Creek Chief Dave Manning said, “These buildings, like all buildings, do not have a higher value than human life.”
As construction crews worked to clean up a pile of bricks and rubble on Wednesday, Weissman told The Times-Gazette that Tuesday’s collapse left another adjacent building to the east, currently home to a candy shop, also vulnerable to collapse.
The candy shop, Bon Appetit Gourmet Shoppe & Gifts, posted on Facebook Thursday afternoon saying the store is “closed indefinitely.”
Meanwhile, the westbound lane of West Main Street (U.S. Route 50) was reopened to traffic, although the eastbound lane will likely remain closed until the end of cleanup activities, according to Safety and Service Director Mel McKenzie.
As previously reported, the collapsed building was deemed unfit for habitation in April, along with three other buildings further down the street to the west: one the former home of a local AAA office, another housing Momma’s West Main Cafe, and the old Parker House, a four-story structure that city officials say is in an advanced state of deterioration.
City officials say court proceedings are pending for full condemnation of the three buildings, but that didn’t stop an Adams County company from purchasing the former AAA office and Momma’s building in hopes of restoring them.
D.J. Osborne, a West Union attorney representing the company, said this week that the Southern Ohio Historic Preservation Group wants to “save the two buildings and restore them.”
In a Facebook post Thursday afternoon, Momma’s West Main Cafe said it would be “closed until further notice” because the proprietors were “told we have to leave during the remodeling phase.”
When asked about the post, Osborne said, “There’s going to be a lot of work done in the buildings,” but declined to make further comment until he had looked into the matter further.
The Momma’s post asked friends to “Please pray for our employees and their families during this difficult time.”
Earlier this week, McKenzie described the buildings as a “ticking time bomb.”
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.