Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 12, 2013

Firefighter injured; buildings destroyed in blaze near J&J's Restaurant

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — An intense fire in Ashland destroyed a pair of buildings on Friday, displacing two businesses and numerous residents. An Ashland firefighter was injured in the blaze, but his injuries were not believed to be life-threatening.

The fire broke out around 11:30 a.m. in a cinderblock storage building in the 5200 block of 13th Street, next to J&J’s Restaurant. Fire officials said the fire was fast moving, and quickly spread to the main two-story building facing U.S. 60, which was separated from the storage structure by only a few feet.

That building housed Design Development and Architecture Design Firm and Justice Flowers, along with three upper-floor apartments. Both properties are owned by Mary Justice, owner and founder of J&J’s Restaurant and Justice Flower shop.

“We all got our lives saved, but homes are gone. All the businesses are gone,” said Mary Justice, visibly shaken by the scene unfolding before her.

 Tim Justice, Mary’s son, lived in one of the upper-floor apartments and operates Design Development. The office building housed a number of contract designers and had been in operation for about seven years.

Tim Justice and several employees were working when the fire started.

“We had just finished up a client meeting and one of the local people told us to ‘Come on. Hurry up.’ I didn’t know what had happened. The next thing I knew the fire department wouldn’t let us into the building. It looks like we are losing everything,” he said, “This is bad. There are two businesses and three families here that have lost everything.”

Ina Kirk and her husband, Randy, lived in one of the apartments with their 5-year-old pug, Bubby. Ina Kirk was relaxing while watching television in her pajamas when firefighters alerted her to the blaze.

“They pounded on my door and told me to get out; the building was on fire. I just grabbed my dog, and I’m out. I didn’t smell nothing,” she said.  

Ina Kirk said she was the only tenant at home when the fire broke out, and didn’t see smoke until she got outside and was coming down the stairway from the second floor.

“I would have never known if they hadn’t pounded on my door,” she said. “I guess I lost everything I got. That’s all we had.”

The couple don’t have renters insurance and have lived in the building for three years.

“We’ll find somewhere (to go),” Randy Kirk said. “We’ll have to start all over again.”

Michael Meyers had just arrived at J&J’s for the lunch when the fire broke out. He and many other patrons were stranded at the restaurant for a time.

   “The hoses are expanded, and they are waiting on the bridges to go over the hoses so we can drive across them,” he said. “We pulled in and noticed what was happening.”

 Fire officials have not said what caused the blaze. It took crews several hours to get the flames under control, and they were still at the scene late into the afternoon.

“We were in there cooking food, and the delivery guy came in there and said the building is on fire,” said Kathy Woods, a cook at J&J’s. “When I stepped out, you could see flames coming through the windows. Probably within 20 minutes the building was engulfed.”

Ashland Fire Chief Scott Penick said additional crews of Ashland firefighters were called to assist with the fire. Firefighters used an aerial ladder truck to spray water onto the structure, in addition to hoses on the ground at both ends of the building.

“It’s the biggest one we’ve had in a while,” Penick said.

Firefighters worked for more than an hour to get the flames under control. The blaze produced heavy, arid smoke that at times obscured visibility on U.S. 60 and could be smelled more than a mile away.

The fire melted large portions of the main building’s metal roofing, causing a portion of it to collapse onto firefighters. Penick said falling debris caused the firefighter’s injury.

“We sent him to the hospital; it is precautionary,” Penick said.

There was no word on the firefighter’s condition at press time.

Penick said an investigation into the cause would be conducted once the blaze was fully extinguished.

Unconfirmed reports at the scene were that a kerosene heater in a storage building that contained silk flowers, a classic car and other items was to blame for starting the fire.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.