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February 8, 2018 fire that changed the face of Downtown Vinton

February 8th, 2018 was a day that I remember holding my breath as we followed what was happening in our downtown.

At about 7:30 that night a fire could be seen at the Michael and Dowd building, which looked like it might be small enough to contain. We watched as the fire department arrived and began battling the blaze.

Vinton firefighters used their aerial truck to try to contain the fire from above in an effort to contain the blaze. Urbana-Polk Township and Garrison fire departments also spent hours at the scene.

Despite their best efforts and resources, the flames and smoke continued to move toward Clingman Pharmacy as well as Fischer Law Offices and the Benton County Title Company.

Volunteers worked late into the night, removing as much as they could from the buildings before fire and smoke reached them.

Spectators, including the owners and workers affected, watched as the smoke and flames slowly spread from one building to the next.

"Fire has reached Bob's office," Linda Fischer wrote at around midnight, as the flames began attacking the Fischer building, and smoke poured out of an upstairs window. Witnesses also reported seeing the collapse of a rear wall and the second floors of one of the structures.

By 1 a.m. the flames appeared to be passing the roof of the Fischer building and heading toward the Benton Co. Title structure.

Area residents shared photos on social media showing flames shooting from windows facing both 1st Avenue and 4th Street before firefighters arrived.

Despite the efforts of dozens of firefighters from several communities, flames were still seen rising above the building at 11:30 p.m., hours after the fire was first reported.

Beckie Hobbs, who lives across the street from the store on First Avenue, described the beginning of the fire.

"I heard a couple loud bangs, then a LOT of glass breaking. I thought someone was breaking bottles or something. I went downstairs to look and there were flames, smoke, and windows busting out everywhere," said Hobbs.


The store was founded in 1936 as Dowd Appliance. In 1944, it became Michael's when L.A. Michael became part of the family.

It was primarily a Maytag and Frigidaire appliance dealer with Magnavox electronics added during the early years of color television. The store also began selling Armstrong vinyl floors during this same decade.

In 1959, Ron and Kay Dowd joined the firm with the acquisition of a furniture and carpet business. The entire operation was united and moved to the present location in 1964.

Mount Auburn Mayor Jeffrey Whitson worked there for 5 years; his father, Dave, had worked there for four decades.

"That's a sad scene," said Whitson. "Ron, Kay, Lisa, Mark and Dave, they're like family to us."

Firefighters had been trying to keep the flames from spreading to other buildings, including Clingman Pharmacy. By 9 p.m. flames had spread to the roof of Clingman's

Burning all night long and still smoldering the next day, questions began to swirl as we wondered what would happen to Clingman Pharmacy as well.

LaGrange Pharmacy took care of that problem by opening their doors to their neighbor. The staff from Clingman moved into LaGrange for nearly a month while their new location was being prepared.

All that was left of the two businesses were badly-damaged walls. City crews and men from Pickering Backhoe of Keystone made quick work of knocking down the walls after the fire had done all the damage that it could.

Videos posted of the happenings a year ago can still be see.

A video by local resident Gene Hollingsworth shows the demolition of Michael & Dowd HERE.


Drone video created by Michael Mandorin HERE.

See a unique video made by Benton County IT guy Ben Turnis HERE

Vinton Today's Photo Albums can be seen HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE




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