Saturday, April 22, 2000

Warehouse fire kills 1, hurts 2

Dense smoke hampered rescue

BY Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When 911 dispatchers got the initial call Friday morning from a phone inside a burning, century-old Over-the-Rhine building, the news was desperate.

[photo] Firefighters carry a victim from the fire.
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        “Somebody just got burnt ...,” a man told the dispatcher. “I can barely breathe.”

        Minutes later, when Cincinnati firefighters arrived at the auto-parts warehouse and repair shop in a converted brewery, they knew people were inside but they couldn't find them.

        “There was so much smoke they couldn't see the flames until they were right on top of them,” District Chief Lacey Calloway said.

        One man died and two were injured in the 9 a.m. fire, which was punctuated by a loud explosion. Damage was estimated at $150,000.

        A fleet of fire trucks, ambulances and police cars cut off traffic on parts of Central Parkway and West McMicken for more than two hours as rescuers fought the flames and clouds of black smoke while searching for victims inside Dave's Transmission, 607-615 W. McMicken Ave., a multilevel, red-brick and stone building built into a hill rising above Central.

        Firefighters said five men, most believed to be employees, were inside when the fire started.

        Killed was David Vodde, 28, said Capt. Dan Rott mueller. He was nearest the start of the fire on the first floor of the building, Capt. Rottmueller said. Mr. Vodde's body was taken to the Hamilton County coroner's office for an autopsy.

        Some of the men, firefighters said, apparently lived in upper floors of the building. Two escaped unharmed and two others were taken to University Hospital.

        The conditions of David Bryan Sr., 40, and his son, David Jr., 15, had been upgraded to fair condition by late Friday. They were in a loft above where the explosion and fire occurred.

        The fire also killed one dog. At least two other dogs were missing Friday morning.

        The cause of the fire was still under investigation Friday, but initially appeared linked to the auto work going on inside, District Chief Calloway said. A spark from a tool, a cigarette ash or some other flame source likely ignited gasoline leaking from a car. The fire then caused other flammable liquids stored in the building to explode, he said.

        Next door, in a building that shares a wall with the auto parts warehouse, employees at C.M. Mockbee Co., 603 W. McMicken Ave., said they heard a loud explosion toward the back of the building and saw smoke.

        “To me it was like a truck running into the building. It was real loud,” said Greg Crowder, a Mockbee employee.

        The Mockbee business was undamaged.

        The auto business, the Mockbee company and several other buildings on both sides of West McMicken trace their roots to the Bellevue Brewing Co., founded in 1868 while Central Parkway was still a canal.

        The Bellevue brewery closed during Prohibition. Later, the beer cellar buildings, 607-615 W. McMicken, were run for many years by the Brighton Fireproof Storage Co. Since the 1970s, however, the Bellevue brewery buildings have changed hands and uses several times.

        Neighbors said they thought the auto parts warehouse had been in business since about 1996.

        The building owners could not be reached for comment. Hamilton County auditor's records list the property's assessed value at just over $350,000 and owners as Chris and Elizabeth Smith.

        The name of the auto business was not clear Friday. A sign on the building said “Auto Truck Parts Warehouse.” The 911 caller described the business as “Dave's Transmission.”


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