Courthouse in Madison, Ind., Burns

May 22, 2009

Firefighters remained at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Madison, Ind., early Thursday watching for hotspots after flames and smokes engulfed the 154-year-old building, a police dispatcher said.

The fire which began Wednesday evening was under control, said Madison Police dispatcher Megan Burris.

The dome and the courthouse’s central tower appeared to be severely damaged in video shown on television.

Fire crews from across southern Indiana and northern Kentucky were called to the scenic Ohio River city to battle the blaze that was reported about 6 p.m. Smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the air and flames shot out the top of the building.

Several firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation, Burris said.

Video on Louisville, Ky. television station WHAS showed shackled inmates evacuated from the adjacent jail and loaded onto waiting school buses. The Sheriff’s Department declined to say where they were taken.

The entire area was blocked off to traffic. Media reports said nearby buildings did not appear to be threatened. The cause was not immediately clear.

Firefighters declared the fire under tentative control about 9 p.m., said Madison police dispatcher Larry Pfeiffer, but TV showed the building still smoking two hours later.

Jefferson County Prosecutor Chad Lewis said crews had been renovating the dome and had just finished painting it in preparation for Madison’s bicentennial, June 6-14. Madison Fire Chief Steve Horton said the courthouse had been worked on earlier in the day.

Julie Berry, Jefferson County commissioner, said the timing was ironic as the renovation project neared completion.

“Our courthouse was probably the most beautiful that it’s been in years today. This is a blow indeed, but we’re a resilient community, and that courthouse will be rebuilt,” she told WHAS.

An August 2006 fire damaged two other downtown buildings, including the former city hall.

The city of about 12,000 is designated a National Register Historic District, according to Historic Madison Inc.’s Web site.

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