The show will go on
Despite the Sunday fire that ravaged their downtown office, the staff of the Ellsworth County Independent Reporter was busy Tuesday putting out their latest issue. The edition hits the streets today.
Displaced by the blaze, the editors, reporters, advertising staff and other employees toiled away in their temporary location – the journalism room at Ellsworth High School. “There was never any question whether or not we’d publish this week,” said Independent Reporter Publisher Linda Denning.
Surviving on little or no sleep, pizza, snacks and soft drinks, the paper personnel utilized the make-shift newsroom with computers, cameras and other equipment lent by the I/R’s sister publication, the Great Bend Tribune, and the Kansas Press Association. Tribune Publisher Mary Hoisington and Managing Editor Dale Hogg also pitched in Monday with ad and news duties.
Denning said the community has been wonderful in its support of the newspaper. They have been inundated with offers of a place for them to relocate to, assorted donations and even money.
Assistance came from elsewhere as well. “As soon as the paper burned and word of the fire spread, calls came in from across the state offering help,” Denning said.
Some of their computer hardware and archives may be salvageable, Denning said. New equipment has been ordered by the paper’s parent company, Morris Multimedia of Savanna, Ga.
As for a new home, that remains uncertain at this point, Denning said.
With flames raging above them, Mark and Josie Roehrman literally made it out of their basement apartment in downtown Ellsworth with the shirts on their backs Sunday evening.
The couple owns the century-old building on Ellsworth’s historic Douglas Street that was gutted by the blaze that drew fire-fighting units from all over central Kansas. They lost everything.
Well, not everything. “We made it out,” Mark said afternoon, taking a break from the chaos left in the wake of the devastating fire. As for their possessions, “they’re only things.”
Gone were their personal belongings. But, as he sat in the Ellsworth Village Mall, an antique store/coffee shop/deli also owned by the Roehrmans, he reflected on the fire’s aftermath and the community’s response. When asked about public support, he merely pointed to a pile of bags stuffed with clothes and other of life’s necessities.
At the same time, Josie waited on a customer. “I’m sorry,” the customer said.
“If we stayed one night with everyone who has offered, we would have a place to stay for six months,” Mark said. The Roehrmans are staying with Mark’s parents in Kanopolis.
Asked about their plans, Mark, a Kanopolis native, was defiant. “We will stay here.”
According to Ellsworth Fire Chief Bob Kepka Tuesday afternoon, the cause of the fire remains under investigation. An investigator from the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office was at the scene Monday and an insurance investigator was in Ellsworth Tuesday.
No estimates have been placed on the dollar value of the damage, but Roehrman fears the building is a total loss.
Night of the inferno
The Roehrmans were relaxing in the apartment Sunday night. Mark, a contractor, had spent the day working in his shop in the back of the building, and had just come downstairs, showered and started to watch television.
Then, at around 6 p.m., “the smoke alarm went off,” Mark said. “We came upstairs and there was a lot of smoke so we left.”
They were never able to return to their home. Mark emerged with only his pajama bottoms and a T-shirt, but no shoes. “We came out with nothing,” he said. “You don’t think that you won’t be able to go back in.”
Flames and smoke roiled out of the structure. “It was pretty intense and it was pretty hot.”
The Roehrmans moved to Ellsworth in 2003. They bought the building at 220 North Douglas and restored the main floor (which housed the Ellsworth County Independent Reporter) and the basement. They were in the process of remodeling the second floor to turn it into a loft and had poured their hearts and souls into the project.
Mark said the cause remains undetermined, as do their plans for the structure. It was a hardy building, but it was old. They don’t know about its integrity now.
But, there is a bright side. Mark said he was so thankful for the local fire department and all the other departments that responded. “They had trucks from everywhere.”
Although their building was lost, “they did a great job saving downtown,” Mark said. The entire block could have been destroyed.