Escue suffers $2 Million loss, photographs of ruins


Publication: The Kentucky Post

Covington, KY, United States
p. 1, col. 1-6

Escue suffers $2 million loss


The flames didn't stop for hours.

The fire broke out sometime after 9:15 p.m. Monday at Escue Datsun, Second Street and Madison Avenue, destroying one of the business's showrooms. Its parts and service departments and an upper-level storage area where the company kept records.

(Kentucky Post staff writers Mark Nelkirk, Greg Paeth, Rosemary Hackett and William Weathers produced this story.)

"We're pouring thousands of gallons of water on it, and it's still burning," Covington Fire Chief James Ruth said at about 11:30 p.m. It was not until this morning that firemen could reduce the blaze to a smolder.

The destroyed building was oh the north side of Second Street, and extended all the way to the Covington floodwall. Investigators believe the fire may have been an arson, but this morning, as they began poking through the ruins, they could not be certain of anything.

The arson investigation was hampered by a grid of heavy, half melted steel beams covering the destroyed showroom, and officials were waiting for a crane to help them sift through the massive pieces of debris.




Twisted, dropping beams lie atop charred Datsuns today at Covington's Escue Datsun (above). Monday night as the flames soared 60 feet in the iar, dealership owner Fray Escue wept at the side of his son, Chip.






At no time during the night did firemen believe they could save the building, Ruth said. From the moment they arrived, it was a question of containing the fire.

At least three fire departments Covington, Ft. Mitchell, and Ludlow fought the blaze, which was called a four- alarmer. In all, 120 firemen were on the scene including 80 from Covington, Ruth said.

To bring enough water to fight the fire, hundreds of feet of hose were stretched throughout the northernmost section of Covington. The snaking lines forced police to close several intersections, and even prompted Cincinnati Police to order all traffic barred from the Suspension Bridge for hours.

No one was injured by the fire itself, but one fireman stepped on a nail and was hurt slightly, said James Patrick, Covington assistant fire chief.

Apparently, no one was in the building at the time of the fire.

"Everybody had just left. We closed up at 9," said owner Fray Escue of Hebron, who came to the fire scene after his daughter called him and said she had heard of the fire on the news.

"We had just gone home."

Escue and his family watched in tears as the building burned. The flames at times reached 60 feet into the sky and ignited power lines overhead.

Escue said he had been in business since 1958.

The contents of the building including more than 50 new and used cars were valued at about $2 million by Carroll Gregory, the general manager for Escue for the past eight years.

All records in the building apparently were destroyed, although some records in a safe might be recovered, Gregory said.

He said Escue intends to continue in business, operating from its other showroom immediately across the street.

This morning, employees gathered at the building across the street, watched the smoldering ruins and waited for an employees' meeting.

"I feel terrible. It's just a part of your life," said Gregory, adding that he is as concerned about the feelings of people who had their cars in the shop for service as as he is about the dealership's loss.

A service worker, who asked that his name not be printed, was on the scene this morning to recover what he could of some $4,000 worth of tools. A fireman helped him by prying open a toolchest in the company's service area, and dropping salvagable tools into a bucket. The worker said he had no insurance on the tools of his trade, and neither did the Escue dealership.

A tractor-trailer car carrier from Pennsylvania arrived this morning with two Datsun trucks and six cars. It was directed to park on a lot at the east side of the burned building.

Half a dozen firemen played hoses on scores of smoldering spots amid charred Datsun 280-Zs high performance sports car whose tire now are burned completely off and are crushed by melted and twisted steel beams lying across their hoods and tops. Space heaters that had been mounted in the first-floor ceiling dangled in mid-air by their fuel lines.


Shaded area is proposed Covington redevelopment section.
Shaded area is proposed Covington redevelopment section.


General manager Gregory said a 6,000-gallon gasoline tank was under the building, but apparently had not been damaged. State police arson investigator Jim Stephens said the smoldering fires posed no threat of igniting the tank.

Gregory said the dealership would request a computer list of inventory today. The list will include all items as of the close of the day Friday and will take into account parts and other property, as well as all vehicles.

The Escue building was next to the area where Covington officials hope a riverfront hotel will be constructed. Dugan & Meyer, a Cincinnati construction firm, has exclusive development rights for the adjacent area and the right of first refusal on the Escue property, which city officials have designated for commercial-lodging development.

City Commissioner Tom Beehan, who was at the fire scene shortly after firefighters arrived, said it was ironic that the blaze broke out Monday. "Some developers are supposed to look at this area tomorrow," Beehan said.

Officially, the cause of the fire is unknown. But Chief Ruth, when asked if arson is considered a possibility, answered:

"We'll be Investigating it as an arson, yes."

Police were told by witnesses that two men were seen running from the fire scene.

Patrolman Steve Wills said the only description was that both were white and one taller than the other. Wills and fellow officer David Wells were on a fight call in the 700 block of Madison six blocks south when two witnesses came up and told the officers they had seen the two men flee south on Scott Street from the fire. But Wills emphasized that police do not know for certain if the two men were involved with the fire.

Wills said he could see the flames from the fire as soon as he was told of it.

"I looked at my watch. It was 9:23," said Wills.

There were conflicting reports from witnesses as to whether there was an explosion.

An IRS guard, stationed about two blocks from Escue on the Johnson Street side of the IRS service center's parking lot, said he heard no explosion. The guard said he was told about the fire at 9:25 p.m. by motorists who stopped at his station just after passing the Escue.

"There was a young man and girl in the car. They said, 'This place is on fire.' They were hysterical," said the guard, who asked not to be identified.

The guard said he wasn't aware of the fire until the motorists stopped. He said he then turned and could see the flames glowing above the one-floor height of the IRS building and immediately called the central guard office. That office had already notified the fire department.

Attorney J. Eugene Hancock and Larry Mullins, who were jogging south over the Suspension Bridge about two blocks east of the dealership, also did not notice an explosion.

"We turned right at the end of the bridge (at Second Street) and we didn't see anything until we got here and the flames were shooting through the roof already," said Hancock.

Mullins and Hancock said they didn't notice the blaze until they passed a row of Second Street buildings that block the view between Court Street just at the end of the Suspension Bridge and Madison.

Hancock said he and Mullins were about to report he [sic] the fire on an alarm box when police arrived.

At least one person did hear an explosion.

Shirley Hall, 524 Main St., Covington, said she heard an explosion, walked out of her home and up to the corner near Fifth and Main streets. From there she could see the flames. She and hundreds of other onlookers rimmed the fire scene, forming a semi-circle around Escue.

Throughout the night, firemen on the ground braced themselves in a sitting positions and aimed hoses from all sides of the building. Ladders from three aerial trucks, including one from Ft. Mitchell, were extended above the building and men with hoses aimed water from above.

Escue general manager Gregory said the building was constructed in 1852, and full of "heavy wood." At one time, it the home of a company that made jails, according to Escue.

Gregory said he understood the fire started in the building's west end and spread rapidly to the rest of the structure, which is two-story with the exception of a third-story section, about one-fifth the area of the rest of the building.

Gregory estimated the total damage at about $2 million. That includes some $750,000-$800,000 in vehicles, he said. Five Datsun 280-Z Turbo cars, five 280-Z GXs, 35-40 used cars and 11 vehicles on the showroom, including some Datsuns 210s and Datsun trucks, as well as a few service vehicles, were inside the building, Gregory said.

About 50-60 vehicles were inside, he said.

Escue dropped the Pontlac automobile line in July, Gregory said, because of a "lack of sales" of Pontiacs. The dealership's Dodge line was dropped three years ago, and its new-car business is all Datsun now, he said.

About 32 employees worked in the destroyed building, but their job status will not be affected, he said.

Nor will business be interrupted by the fire, Gregory said.

Gregory said he had no idea how the fire might have started and that there had been no threats to the business.

Researcher notes:This article is about the fire that destroyed Escue Datsun, formerly the Hemingray Glass Co. factory. The original factory was built in 1852. In the 1920's a jail supplier by the name of Fries and Fries occupied the space.
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Bob Stahr
Date completed:September 7, 2009 by: Bob Stahr;