GREENFIELD — Dark smoke poured into the sky, black against the pink sunset, drawing eyes for miles around.
Flames ripped through four local businesses in a strip mall east of downtown Greenfield on Friday afternoon. Crews from fire departments across the county rushed to the scene to help fight the blaze that, at press time, still had not been fully doused. As far north as Interstate 70, as far west as New Palestine, the aftermath was visible across the evening sky.
Greenfield Fire Territory Chief James Roberts, speaking from the scene Friday, said it was too early to tell how the fire began or to put a dollar amount to the damage done, though he acknowledged it is likely among the worst blazes the city of Greenfield has seen in a long time.
Officials believe the fire started in Mueller Auto Body, 1020 E. Main St., and quickly spread to the neighboring storefronts in Greenfield’s Riley Park Plaza.
The strip houses Burdock Boutique, Tangles Family Salon and PopIndy at the corner of Apple and Main streets. All were damaged in the blaze.
But everyone inside the business when the fire began escaped without injury, officials said.
Tony Bratcher, a firefighter with the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department, said the fire had been classified as a three-alarm blaze, triggering a full-staff response from five county fire departments. Each came to the scene with several fire engines and ambulances and enough firefighters to man each truck, he said.
More than 1,000 neighboring homes and businesses had their power turned off by Greenfield Power & Light while fire crews battled the fire. A few families living closest to the strip mall were evacuated for the night because of safety concerns, and representatives from the American Red Cross were called in to help find them places to stay, according to emergency broadcasts.
Crowds of residents flocked to the area after noticing the smoke cutting through the sky.
They stood on the sidewalks along Main Street at the edges of nearby Riley Park to watch the firefighters at work. Cellphones clasped in their hands caught photographs and videos of the flames shooting through the roof of the strip mall, the smoke billowing from the building and the water shooting out of the fire engines.
The staffs and owners of the affected businesses — who declined to comment for this story — were among them, looking on solemnly as their stores burned. Their friends and families did their best to comfort them, but nothing cleared the awestruck looks from their faces.
Josh Baker, the owner of Rip’s Automotive, which is located directly across the street from Mueller Auto Body, said he and his colleagues noticed the smoke pouring out of the doors and windows of the neighboring shop just moments before the street outside was flooded with first-responders.
It was upsetting to see the damage, the heartache, that fire can bring in just a few minutes, Baker said. He knows the owners of Mueller’s well, considers them friends and even welcomed them into his building Friday night to escape the cold.
What’s more, he understands the dedication and hard work it takes to build and run a good business. He can’t imagine the pain of seeing it all go up in flames, he said.
“You’re just watching your dreams burn down,” Baker said.
Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell expressed the same sentiments. He came to scene Friday night to stand amid the hubbub. And as lights from emergency vehicles flashed around him, he said he could only describe the fire as devastating.
But Fewell had a message for the store owners affected, those daring men and women who took a chance and opened their businesses in Greenfield: the city would help them in anyway it can.
“We’ll do anything we can to get them back on their feet,” he said.