Archive for Saturday, January 12, 1991


January 12, 1991


The owner of a downtown business where a Christmas Eve fire started said he had taken care of an electrical hazard uncovered by firefighters during their last inspection of the building.

Firefighters in May 1990 reported finding interlinked extension cords at The Chapman antique shop, 819 Vt. A Dec. 24 fire that began in the building destroyed a total of four business.

Clyde Chapman, owner of The Chapman, Friday said he unhooked the cords after the fire inspection.

"The problem was corrected," Chapman said. "The fire department called me and said they would be by . . . to reinspect. But they never came back."

Chapman also said that during the inspection, firefighters told him they were concerned about wiring in the front room of the building and would call a city electrical inspector about the possible problem.

However, Chapman said, the city inspector never showed up.

CHAPMAN'S COMMENTS were prompted by a Journal-World story containing information from fire inspection reports on the building since 1987.

Firefighters inspected the building annually in accordance with department inspection guidelines and found electrical problems in each of the four years.

Officials last week announced that the blaze started either in or around electrical meters and a breaker box located in a storage room.

Fire Chief Jim McSwain said that until an investigator determines exactly what caused the fire, it's unclear whether the electrical hazards uncovered in inspections had anything to do with the fire.

McSwain said inspection records noted no problems in the area of the building where the fire started.

Chapman said problems noted in inspections before May 1990 had been taken care of. Most of the problems involved extension cords and were easily fixed, he said.

Also, he said, several improvements had been made to the building's wiring. He said the owners of the building, Frances Miller and her late husband, Harlan Miller, made repairs quickly when problems were pointed out.

"THE BUILDINGS were old, for sure," he said. "But when something came up to be a problem, the Millers fixed it immediately."

In a report about the May inspection, firefighters said they would refer the possible wiring problems to Tim Pinnick, a city electrical specialist.

Pinnick said he inspects a building after electrical work has been completed. He said he received no information that work was done after May, so he did not inspect The Chapman.

Firefighters said the fire began in one of three rooms on the main floor of the building. The fire was reported at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 24 by firefighters who noticed smoke in the alley between Vermont and Kentucky streets.

Firefighters battled the blaze for about two hours before bringing it under control. But the fire continued to burn through Christmas Eve night, and firefighters remained at the scene until Dec. 26 pumping water on hotspots and watching for flareups.

THE FIRE destroyed The Chapman and the buildings on either side the Miller Print Shop, 821 Vt., and a three-story building housing Alley Cat Records, 817 Vt., and Systems Integration, a computer store, 815 Vt.

Investigators estimated total damage at $330,900.

A fund for The Chapman was established at the First National Bank of Lawrence, Ninth and Massachusetts, by friends of Clyde Chapman shortly after the fire.

Chapman said contributions to the fund total about $4,000 so far.

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