(ORLEANS) -The historic Orleans movie theater is nothing but a pile of rubble.
Firefighters were alerted to the fire at 1:46 p.m. Wednesday.
When Orleans Volunteer firefighters arrived one minute later the building was engulfed in flames.
"The building was boarded up and we had heavy smoke and flames coming out of every crack in the building," says Orleans VFD Assistant Chief Tim Hall.
That is when Chief Red Cundiff called in French Lick and West Baden, who have aerial tankers, Paoli, Mitchell, Marion and Orange County Rural Districts I and II VFDs. TOPES from Lawrence County also responded to provide firefighters with beverages.
The owner Ray Thompson watched as the building burned. Thompson and his wife, Tami, bought the building in 2004 from Bob Limeberry with the hopes of rejuvenating the structure, bringing arts and entertainment to Orange County.
"When we got here we had smoke and fire coming out of every corner of the building," Cundiff says. "We were able to save the offices of the barber shop, the marathon station and Brent Elliott Construction," Cundiff says. "We got all the buildings south of the theater evacuated including all the animals that were at Kirk's Veternarian.
Monte Tillett and Matt Steele, both of Orleans heard the call come over Tillett's scanner and went to the square.
"It was gone in minutes," Tillett says. "Firefighters from everywhere were trying to put it out."
Steele says when they arrived the fire was burning out the center of the building.
"It went up really fast," Steele added. "I was gone in minutes."
Orleans Clerk-Treasurer Robert Henderson watched as the firefighters battled the blaze at the theater that anchored the square for 120 years.
Henderson says the building was constructed in the 1890s and served as a dry goods store. It was converted into a theater in the 1930s.
"This is a sad day for Orleans," Henderson added. "This was a piece of our history. The theater survived two major fires on either side of it and this is just really devastating."
Henderson says in 1985, the building on the east side of the theater was lost to a fire. In July of 2000, the restaurant on the west side of the theater was destroyed by a blaze that threatened both the theater and neighboring Kirk Veterinary Service.
Kelly Kirk of Kirk Veterinary Service, who was forced to undergo extensive remodeling after the 2000 fire, evacuated the four pets at her clinic during this fire. The animals and her employees escaped without harm.
Police were forced to block of the Ind. 37 and 337 and Washington Street while crews battled the inferno.
Cundiff says if the fire had jumped to the surrounding buildings the south side of the square would have been destroyed.
"That was my greatest fears," Cundiff added. "If it (the fire) had jumped we would have lost the entire block."
Cundiff appreciates all the work of the other departments and Layne Construction which brought three track hoes to the site.
"They just jumped in and started moving the debris around so we could get the fire out," Cundiff added. "Without these other departments and the aerial trucks we would have been in trouble."
Cundiff has no idea what started the blaze.
"And with this much damage we may never know," he added.
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