Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Sandy Polk, the widow of Lifeline founder Irv Polk, turns way from the scene of a fire that destroyed the Youth For Christ/ Lifeline building and two others in downtown Elkhart early Sunday morning. Three people who had to be rescued from an apartment building that the fire spread to were transported to a Fort Wayne burn center. (AP)

The Youth For Christ/ Lifeline building became a casualty of a fire early Sunday morning September 23,2012 that started in a building at 615 East Street behind the Irv Polk Center and spread to another apartment building also, three people were transported to a burn unit in Fort Wayne. Sandy Polk widow of Irv Polk who the center is named for, Darrell Peterson Lifeline executive director and a Neighbor Ed Hines gaze at the ruins. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)

The Youth For Christ/ Lifeline building became a casualty of a fire early Sunday morning September 23,2012 that started in a building at 615 East Street behind the Irv Polk Center and spread to another apartment building also, three people were transported to a burn unit in Fort Wayne. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)

The Youth For Christ/ Lifeline building became a casualty of a fire early Sunday morning September 23,2012 that started in a building at 615 East Street behind the Irv Polk Center and spread to another apartment building also, three people were transported to a burn unit in Fort Wayne. Workers from Indiana and Michigan Power Company work on replacing power to the area that was disrupted from the fire, as the destroyed Lifeline building is in the back ground. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)

The Youth For Christ/ Lifeline building became a casualty of a fire early Sunday morning September 23,2012 that started in a building at 615 East Street behind the Irv Polk Center and spread to another apartment building also, three people were transported to a burn unit in Fort Wayne. Sandy Polk widow of Irv Polk who started Youth For Christ in Elkhart (far left) and Darrell Peterson Lifeline executive director (second from left) watch as Workers from Indiana and Michigan Power Company work on replacing power to the area. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)

The Youth For Christ/ Lifeline building became a casualty of a fire early Sunday morning September 23,2012 that started in a building at 615 East Street behind the Irv Polk Center and spread to another apartment building also, three people were transported to a burn unit in Fort Wayne. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)

The Youth For Christ/ Lifeline building became a casualty of a fire early Sunday morning September 23,2012 that started in a building at 615 East Street behind the Irv Polk Center and spread to another apartment building also, three people were transported to a burn unit in Fort Wayne. Workers from Indiana and Michigan Power Company work on replacing power to the area that was disrupted from the fire, as the destroyed Lifeline building is in the back ground. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)

The Youth For Christ/ Lifeline building became a casualty of a fire early Sunday morning September 23,2012 that started in a building at 615 East Street behind the Irv Polk Center and spread to another apartment building also, three people were transported to a burn unit in Fort Wayne. Workers from Indiana and Michigan Power Company work on replacing power to the area that was disrupted from the fire. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)

The Youth For Christ/ Lifeline building became a casualty of a fire early Sunday morning September 23,2012 that started in a building at 615 East Street behind the Irv Polk Center and spread to another apartment building also, three people were transported to a burn unit in Fort Wayne. There is nothing left of the building in the center where the fire started. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)

The Youth For Christ/ Lifeline building became a casualty of a fire early Sunday morning September 23,2012 that started in a building at 615 East Street behind the Irv Polk Center and spread to another apartment building also, three people were transported to a burn unit in Fort Wayne. (Truth Photo By Larry Tebo) (AP)
From havoc, hope emerges

Posted on Sept. 24, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — As crews worked to clean debris from a fire that destroyed three buildings in downtown Elkhart early Sunday morning, the smell of damp, burnt materials lingered in the air.

Sandy Polk, the wife of Lifeline founder Irv Polk, stood across the street, gazing at the building she and her husband had turned into a youth center more than four decades ago.

When she first heard about the fire, “I was numb and I cried a lot,” Polk said. “I felt violated.”

Though it was difficult to come to terms with the destruction of a building she had invested years of her life in, Polk’s grief turned to hope.

“I just see there are possibilities,” she said. “More could come out of this than we could ever imagine.”

Darrell Peterson, the executive director of Lifeline, agreed.

Support from the community is already pouring in. Peterson received almost immediate encouragement, from text messages and phone calls to Facebook messages. He even received a message from a person in South Africa who had seen the news on Lifeline’s Facebook page.

Peterson also said several organizations have already offered to allow Lifeline use of their facilities for the organization’s weekday activities. He said starting this morning, the staff will start making plans.

“We will be inconvenienced but we won’t be stopped,” Peterson said. “It (the response) showed me how much this community cares about what goes on here.”

Many questions remain surrounding the Sunday morning fire that destroyed three buildings and injured four people. Why did this happen, or, how did it start?

The answers will most likely trickle in over the coming days, but investigators will have their hands full in the meantime.

From the information already known, this is what appears to have happened:

Just before 2 a.m., the blaze started at what was once Tony’s Shoe Store at 615 East St. From there, the fire spread south to the neighboring Lifeline/Youth for Christ building on State Street and north to an apartment house on Division Street.

Firefighters from Elkhart, Concord and Osolo teamed to control the blaze. Gallons upon gallons of water were dumped on the fire.

Electricity was cut for blocks. The police and fire departments were forced to operate on generators for much of the day. The Lerner Theatre had to postpone the performance of “Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming” until tonight because of the outage. Power wasn’t restored until approximately 5 p.m. Sunday.

Several neighbors said they heard loud pops before the electricity went out.

James Anderson, who lives down the street from the apartment house, said he could feel the heat when he stood at his window. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It went up really fast.”

In the end, the apartment building sustained heavy damage. The roof of the Lifeline building collapsed. And the Shoe Store? Nothing was left but a heap of rubble.

People from two of the apartment units were able to escape the blaze unscathed. Three people in a third unit, however, had to be rescued from the building and suffered burns and smoke inhalation, said Elkhart fire inspector Kent Stouder. The three were taken by MedFlight to the Fort Wayne burn center. As of Sunday evening, the names and conditions of the injured were unknown.

A firefighter was also injured while battling the fire. He was hit by the water stream from a hose and was taken to Elkhart General Hospital.

Ana Gubara, a resident of the apartment house, said through a translator that all her family owned was lost. Luckily, she and her two children who were home made it out of the building unharmed. Her other two children were spending the night away at their cousins’ house.

Though they lost everything, Gubara said that a friend has already opened her home to her and her family in the wake of the fire.

Driving to church Sunday with nine members of Lifeline in tow, Peterson made sure to take the kids past the building. He wanted to let them see what had happened.

Peterson said as they drove and discussed the destruction, one of the members said, “God’s not surprised and he knows exactly what he’s doing.”

A day that started with only devastation and sadness had already turned resilient and hopeful.