Nine fire departments from across the region responded to Friday's fire which devastated four businesses and devastated two historic buildings in the village. (Photo courtesy of Brenda (Clymer) Davis)
Nine fire departments from across the region responded to Friday's fire which devastated four businesses and devastated two historic buildings in the village. (Photo courtesy of Brenda (Clymer) Davis)

COLUMBUS GROVE — Four businesses and a section of Columbus Grove’s historic downtown were consumed by flames late Friday night.

According to a release issued jointly by the Columbus Grove Police Department and the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, dispatchers received a 911 call at 9:52 p.m. regarding a structure fire at 101 North High Street, a building occupied by the restaurant Pizza 101.

Firefighters with the Columbus Grove Fire Department responded within minutes, but the fire, according to CGFD Chief Bob Brubaker, was already burning out of control.

“It was an old building. The fire was way ahead of us when we got there. The smoke was already in the second floor,” Brubaker said. With the CGFD on point, mutual aid was called for, and answered from all quarters. Arriving on scene were firefighters and equipment from Kalida, Pandora, Ottawa, Fort Jennings, Glandorf, American Township, Bluffton, Cairo, and Beaverdam. Also on scene were police officers from Pandora, Ottawa, Glandorf and the PCSO, as well as Grove, Pandora, and Putnam County EMS units.

Despite the best efforts of emergency personnel and equipment — including three ladder trucks pouring water onto the roofs of the structure — the fire raged west, consuming three other buildings and businesses: The Rowdy Rooster, The Bloom Boutique, and Heffner Printing. And the building to the north of Pizza 101 — known locally as the Old Unique Design building — also sustained significant damage. Brubaker deemed the building unsafe, and it, too, will come down at some point in the future.

As to the cause of the fire, officials with the State Fire Marshall’s Office are still investigating. Even so, conversations Brubaker had with the investigators and with Todd Hoffman — who, along with his wife, Dee, own Pizza 101 and the adjacent Old Unique Design building — offered some insights.

From his conversations, Brubaker said employees at the restaurant were aware of what they described as a strange smell, but paid it little heed.

“I don’t think (the employees) pinpointed it until it really blew the light out in the bathroom, and then sparks flew,” Brubaker said. “The way it sounds, it started somewhere in the back of the pizza place. (Investigators are) thinking more on the electrical side of it.”

While the blaze caused catastrophic damage to buildings in the 100 block of High Street, no injuries were reported by firefighters or building owners and employees.

“We’re extremely thankful the kids got out, and it was late enough that all the other businesses were closed,” Dee Hoffman said on Monday. “So we’re grateful for that.”

As devastating as the fire was, the cataclysm — as is common in these rural communities — brought out the best in residents here.

“I tell you what, our county is awesome,” Brubaker said. “The support we had from every fire department, the manpower that came out in this county and from outside, I’m just overwhelmed. They’re just awesome.”

But that support wasn’t limited to emergency personnel. Brubaker, Columbus Grove Mayor Ken Wright, and Columbus Grove Village Administrator Jeff Vance — who serves as a firefighter with the CGFD — all commented on the response of village residents, as well as that of those from outside the community.

Even as the flames leapt into the night sky, as Friday rolled over into Saturday, contributions of food and drink were shuttled to the site by concerned area residents.

“I looked up, and there were cases of water waiting in the park across the street,” Vance said.

Brubaker extended particular thanks to Ottawa Shell, which provided tankers to refuel the engines, and to Gerding Excavating for volunteering equipment and personnel for initial demolition efforts, thereby mitigating any potential harm from falling debris.

And immediately in the aftermath, private efforts were undertaken offering financial support to the owners of the buildings whose livelihoods were brought to a sudden stop.

Ottawa’s Jason Ball, owner of Tony’s, started a GoFundMe account on Sunday — the Columbus Grove Small Business Fire Relief Fund — an effort supported by the Union Bank and Fort Jennings State Bank. Stephanie and Dane Jesko, along with Fast Trax, have organized a T-shirt sale with all proceeds going to support the small business owners. As of press time, over $30,000 was raised between the two efforts, with donations continuing to pour in.

“We’re completely overwhelmed by the support we’re getting and everybody’s donation, just everybody reaching out,” Dee Hoffman said. “We don’t have words to thank everybody for how great the community’s been to us and all the other businesses. We definitely have a great community. That’s for sure.”

Brubaker seconded Hoffman’s comments, saying, “Columbus Grove has a thing right now: #GroveStrong. I say we’re Putnam County Strong.”

As to when, or if, the businesses will rebuild, the disaster is still too fresh. Insurance adjusters will visit the site and the business owners over the course of the coming week. The results of those investigations, those conversations, will determine the future of The Rowdy Rooster, Heffner Printing, The Bloom Boutique, and Pizza 101.

Speaking on behalf of her business, Dee Hoffman commented, “We’re just kind of taking it day by day right now. We don’t have an answer to that yet. We’ll have to see how things play out.”


Where and how to donate

GROVE/PUTNAM COUNTY - In the wake of Friday's fire, two separate efforts are underway to provide financial support to the business owners whose livelihoods suddenly came to an end.

Ottawa's Jason Ball, owner of Tony's, on Sunday set up a GoFundMe account on Facebook. To donate to the fund, visit the Columbus Grove Chamber of Commerce Facebook page, scroll down to the appropriate post, and click on the link at the bottom of the post.

Donations can also be made locally at the Fort Jennings State Bank in Columbus Grove or at any Union Bank location. Checks can be made out to the Columbus Grove Chamber of Commerce with the notation "Columbus Grove Small Business Fire Relief Fund."

Donations can be dropped off or mailed to:

CG Small Business Fire Relief Fund

c/o Ft. Jennings State Bank

302 Delphos Road

Columbus Grove, OH 45830

The Union Bank has locations in Columbus Grove, Kalida, Delphos, Paulding, Ottawa, Leipsic, Lima, and Findlay.

In a second effort, Stephanie and Dane Jesko, in concert with Fast Trax and a host of local businesses are offering T-shirts for sale, all proceeds from the sale of which will support the business owners.

The red, short sleeved T-shirts bear the slogan #CGSTRONG, COLUMBUS GROVE, THE DEFINITION OF COMMUNITY in white block lettering.

Available at a cost of $20, the shirts may be purchased by visiting https://cg-strong.myshopify.com/

Stephanie Jesko will announce when the shirts are received, and they will be available for pick-up in Columbus Grove.

For more information, or for answers to questions, contact Stephanie Jesko at CG-StrongShirts@gmail.com