By TIM HORAN
While Abilene residents prepared for the first major snowstorm in years, the attention of the city quickly turned to the black smoke billowing out of the historic Kirby House in downtown Abilene Wednesday night.
Owners Rob and Melodie Sprouse could only watch from across the street as fire destroyed the restaurant they purchased just over two years ago.
“We have no idea,” Medodie said when asked of a possible cause.
The restaurant was not open for business at the time.
“We closed because of the storm,” Rob said. “We closed at 2 (p.m.).”
Other restaurants in Abilene closed because of the anticipated snowstorm.
The Sprouses had little else to say as the fire destroyed one of their businesses. They also own the popular M&R Grill in Abilene.
Abilene Fire Chief Bob Sims said Thursday morning that the state fire Marshal will be in town Friday to look for a cause of the blaze.
The building was destroyed and will be demolished. Doug Smart with Smart Insurance said the building was completely covered.
The black smoke was so dense at times motorists along Buckeye Avenue, Abilene’s main street, had zero visibility.
The fire immediately went social with posts on Facebook and Twitter and that brought out onlookers that police had to keep back and off the railroad tracks close by.
Fireman from the Abilene Fire Department and Grant Township fought the blaze, which spread quickly throughout the building that was built in 1885. Fire and water damage was evident throughout the two-story building. The Red Cross was called in to provide fluids and nourishment for the firefighters.
Thomas Kirby built the house in 1885. In 1905 it was sold to the Abilene Commercial Club. During the next 72 years the house underwent many changes, including being utilized as apartments.
Terry and Jerry Tietjens purchased it in 1986. After an 11-month restoration, the home was opened as a fine-dining restaurant. It has gone through several hands since. Vangie Henry owned the restaurant and coffee shop for 12 years before selling it to the Sprouses.