Two northern Indiana law firms were destroyed by separate fires this past week, forcing attorneys to scramble to set up new offices and continue to serve clients.
On March 3, the law offices of Daniel Tankersley, Kevin Tankersley and John Kocher in Winamac were destroyed by a fire that also burned through an adjacent warehouse. On March 8, the firm of Matheny Hahn Denman & Nix LLP in Huntington suffered heavy smoke and water damage from a fire that started on an upper floor.
No one was injured in either blaze.
Both firms have relocated to other buildings and are taking phone calls as well as answering client needs. Attorneys are able to access client files stored on computers and have gotten several continuances from the local courts.
Kocher and the Tankersley attorneys have moved into a new space south of Winamac at 1600 U.S. 35. Wilford Hahn and his colleagues are establishing new offices at 10 E. Market St., across from the courthouse.
The firms are rebuilding from scratch and getting new furniture, computers, phones and supplies. John Kocher had to stand in his new office for about a week after the fire because the desk and chair had not arrived.
“You can’t dwell on it,” Kocher said. “You’ve got to accept it and move on. It’s hard but not impossible.”
Kocher was enjoying some time in Long Beach, Indiana, when he received the call that his office building was burning. He drove the 90 minutes back to Winamac and saw the thick smoke before he got to the downtown.
Then, he said, he stood on the street and “watched 40 years of legal practice go up in smoke.”
The fire started in the warehouse and spread to the building with the law offices at 115 W. Main St. According to a report from WSBT, more than 10 fire departments fought the blaze, which broke out about 8:30 a.m., and had to pump water from the Tippecanoe River. At one point, Kocher saw the water gushing like a river from his office.
Kocher owned the burned building, which was constructed in 1928. His office was in the space where his grandfather once had a meat market. He said the building was completely destroyed and everything in the law offices is gone.
Roughly 60 miles away, lawyers at the Matheny firm are also trying to recover from a devastating fire.
“We hope to be up and back in business by Monday,” Hahn said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Hahn was driving into work when he received a call that the building was on fire. The morning blaze was caused by an electrical circuit malfunction in one of the apartments above the first-floor law firm. According to WANE, as many as 75 firefighters helped fight the fire fed by the strong winds.
Climbing onto the roof of a nearby building, Hahn watched the flames move slowly across the structure until it finally reached the side where the law office was located. “(It was) just a helpless feeling,” he said.
Just that morning before the fire started, the firm had backed up its client files on the cloud. However, it had file cabinets of paper documents that had yet to be scanned and it had stored older files in the basement. The basement is now filled with 6 feet of water and the roof has been burned off.
“It’s a mess,” Hahn said.
The firm has moved about a block away into the former Wells Fargo Bank building and are having the cables installed for internet service. Hahn said insurance officials believe the building hit by the fire is salvageable and his colleagues are hoping to return to their former offices in about a year-and-a-half.
Likewise, Kocher in Winamac is also looking to the future. Although he said he is coming to the end of his legal career, he is working to establish a new office and continue practicing.
“I’m not going to let a fire be the cause of my retirement,” Kocher said. “I’ll retire on my own terms.”