EAST LIVERPOOL - The cause and origin of a fire that destroyed an East End nightclub late Sunday night, sending one firefighter to the hospital, is being investigated by the state fire marshal's office.
The Legends Bar, 504 Mulberry St., was declared a total loss Monday by fire officials, who believe the establishment may have been burning for some time before anyone noticed.
The police dispatcher notified the fire department at 10:13 p.m. there was smoke billowing from the front of the bar, and while the three firefighters on duty were en route, a police officer called to confirm the initial report, prompting a third alarm to be sounded.
Morning Journal/Jo Ann Bobby-Gilbert
With its roof collapsed, the sky is clearly visible through the broken front window of The Legends Bar in East Liverpool after fire destroyed the nightclub.
Upon arrival, firefighters found thick, black smoke coming from the building, donned air packs and broke down the front door with an ax to enter.
Inside, they encountered heavy smoke and extreme heat but not fire, and two firefighters headed to the basement while the third went to ventilate the roof.
In the basement, fire was found in the middle of the building and extinguished, after which fire was also found on the main floor behind the bar.
At this point, Chief Bill Jones and the third alarm crew arrived and fire was found above the suspended ceiling. Fire began raging through the building, and the decision was made for firefighters to exit and attack it from the exterior.
Streets and parking lots were lined with curious onlookers as the fire department set up the aerial in front of the building as a water tower and another engine to the north side with a deck gun, pouring thousands of gallons of water onto the building's roof.
No fire was evident initially, but when one of the decorative windows at the top floor was broken in, heavy smoke billowed out and fire exploded through the roof at the rear of the building.
As firefighters fought the blaze, it roared through the long section of the bar that once held bowling alleys prior to being remodeled, and despite a continuous onslaught with water, it continued to blaze until brought under control at 4 a.m.
Jones said the age of the building and the fact it had been remodeled with additions provided "so many hiding spots that fire got into" and because "it was so far ahead of us before we got there."
In speaking with a witness Monday, Jones learned she had driven past the bar at 9:30 p.m. and noticed the windows looked black and what she thought was smoke.
"But, she wasn't sure, so she didn't report it. So at 9:30, the building was full of smoke and we didn't get a call until 10:10 p.m.," Jones said.
Asked why another department wasn't called to assist with the stubborn blaze, Jones said there was actually no room for additional fire trucks and that, once the fire broke through the roof, there was really no need for additional manpower.
"I feel it was burning in there for some time, although that's just an opinion and I have nothing to substantiate that," Jones said.
Residents of outlying areas as far as Stagecoach Road in Calcutta reported Monday that heavy smoke from the East End fire had made it that far, with one woman actually calling the township fire department, thinking there was a fire in her neighborhood.
Legends owner Jeff Hall was on the scene Sunday night, having received a text from someone telling him his business was on fire.
He had no idea what could have caused the blaze, and, although the basement was flooded a week prior when much of the area was under high water, Hall said it never affected the electricity.
Hall said he does have insurance on the building but not on the contents.
Jones said this is not the first business Hall has lost to fire, pointing out the last major commercial fire the city department battled started in Hall's All Sports store on Sixth Street on Oct. 26, 2008. That blaze destroyed not only his business but several others.
Asked if this played a part in his decision to turn over the investigation to the state, Jones said, "I called the state fire marshal because it was a commercial building. It was the same for All Sports. But, there has been a drive-by shooting up there (at the bar) and I wanted to make sure we had the proper resources to do the proper investigation."
Firefighters cleared the scene just before 5:30 a.m. Monday but fire hoses were left attached to hydrants and lying near the burned out building in case any hot spots rekindled.