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Investigators could not find the cause of downtown fire

Fire investigator says there is not enough evidence to establish cause of downtown Elkhart fire.
Posted on Oct. 7, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — After searching through evidence and following all possible leads, Elkhart Fire Investigator Kent Stouder said he is unable to determine definitively what caused the fire in downtown Elkhart that destroyed a building and left two others with extensive damage a few weeks ago.

“There’s just not enough evidence to look at,” Stouder said.

Firefighters responded to a building fire at 165 East St. around 2 a.m. Sept. 23, and had it under control after two hours.

Stouder determined the origin of the fire was the old Tony’s Shoe Shop building, which was destroyed. An apartment building to the north and the LifeLine —Youth for Christ Community building to the south received extensive damage.

Three occupants of the apartment building were taken to the St. Joseph Burn Center in Fort Wayne. Sherry Higginbotham and Brian Higginbotham remain in critical condition. Robert Nicodemus was listed in stable condition as of Saturday afternoon.

Two first responders were also injured while trying to control the fire. Capt. Jeff Josselyn and Paramedic Lt. David Richter were transported to Elkhart General Hospital, where they were treated and released soon after.

The block on East Street between Division and State remains closed, and the insurance company for the LifeLine building will continue to search for a cause of the fire.

Stouder said previously that investigators had several leads but declined to speculate at the time. Neighbors had told him they heard explosions coming from the store. Others said they saw a man running down the alley about the time the fire broke out.

The building had been subject of concern for neighbors and the city code enforcement department.

But Stouder said his department is limited in resources to try to excavate through the rubble.

He said investigators from the insurance company will keep the fire department updated if they are successful determining a cause.

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