Update 7:37 p.m.
Nearly everything inside the Bloomington AMVETS Post 2000 is damaged after a fire broke out there Tuesday afternoon, according to Van Buren Fire Department officials.
Shortly after receiving a call around 3:25 p.m., Van Buren Fire Department officials arrived on the scene to find both the main building and a second building that housed the AMVETS bar on fire.
“When we made our first entry, at the doorway, it was 500 degrees. Ten feet in was 750 [degrees],” Van Buren Fire Department Lieutenant Tim Deckard said.
Six fire departments, Bloomington Township, Center Township, Ellettsville, Perry Township and Van Buren fire departments were on the scene. Five fire fighters were sent to the hospital to be treated for heat exhaustion.
What caused the fire has not been determined. A preliminary investigation was expected to start Tuesday evening.
However, damage was extensive.
“In the big building, everything is heat damaged, melted. They have heavy char and fire damage on the east side of the building, and in the bar area in the east building, it’s total loss,” Deckard said.
Matt James stood outside the building surveying the damage as dozens of fire fighters checked for hot spots. James says he had stepped outside to take a phone call when another woman who was smoking outside pointed out there was smoke coming from a small hole in the roof.
“I called 911, then made sure everyone was out of the building. Then, when all the people came out to the section where people come out to smoke, that’s when all the flames from the big building came onto the small building,” James says. “We were just lucky we got everybody out of there.”
Brenda Waltz-Kerr was the bartender on duty at the time of the fire. Fighting back tears, she recalled how everyone rushed out out of the bar after realizing the fire extinguisher they had on hand would be no match for the flames. She says the AMVETS post is like her second home and many of the people who come there regularly are shocked and devastated.
“This is the hometown bar for a lot of the veterans and the Sons [of Union Veterans] and the Ladies Auxiliary. Everybody here is family, so it’s going to be missed. They’ll have to rebuild,” she says.
Many are hoping that is sooner rather than later. James says with all the fundraisers AMVETS has held over the years to help people with their illnesses and needs, he just hopes someone will step up and give them a place to host their weekly events.
Firefighters are trying to control a blaze at the Bloomington AMVETS Post 2000 near the Monroe County Fairgrounds.
The fire was reported at approximately 3:25 p.m. Tuesday.
Several fire departments from Elletsville, Bloomington and Greene County are at the scene.
The cause of the fire is unknown, and no injuries have been reported, although the Herald Times reports a firefighter has been taken to the hospital.
A Van Buren Township fire department commander has been taken to the hospital to be treated for heat exhaustion.
Matt James, 38, of Bloomington, told Herald-Times reporter Jon Blau he noticed smoke filling a gathering room close to the main building.
James said he alerted the 10 to 15 guests of the AMVETS post to leave the building. The fire spread into the bar.