Fire-damaged property must be cleaned up

In March 1969, the five-story Evans Hotel in downtown Vandalia was destroyed by fire. More than four years later, the northwest corner of Fourth and Gallatin streets was still filled with rubble.

That’s what city officials are trying to prevent now, six weeks after a fire destroyed four downtown buildings and caused major damage to a fifth.

This situation is not unlike any others when fire destroys property; the city has guidelines to follow in requiring property owners to take care of the damage.

It is, however, a little different in that the damage sits along a stretch of Vandalia’s newly enhanced Gallatin Street, so it’s constantly in full view of local residents, tourists visiting the Vandalia Statehouse and those traveling along Route 51.

The bigger issue is the stability of one of the buildings damaged by fire that is still standing – the State Farm Insurance building at 308 W. Gallatin St. It’s unknown at this time just how stable that building is.

City Code Official Keith Meadows told the city council on Monday that according to guidelines in the building code that the city follows, the building must be demolished. Fire Chief Merle Adermann told aldermen that he believes the building “is an accident waiting to happen.”

Building owner Dennis Gerkin said he believes that the building is structurally stable, based on an architect’s inspection.

The only way to determine whether the building can be saved is to have someone qualified to render that opinion inspect the property.

We’re glad to see city officials have set a timetable for that action, and are being vigilant about seeing that properties damaged by the fire are cleaned up in a timely manner.

The owner of Cages moved quickly to clean up his property, and we’re hopeful that others follow his lead.

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