The Ottumwa Courier


March 4, 2014

Adios, old friend

OTTUMWA — A once-popular restaurant turned dangerous eyesore has been leveled.

A heavy equipment operator, supported by several workers in hardhats, were demolishing the exposed walls of the building Tuesday morning.

In April of last year, El Rancho Grande Mexican restaurant had an electrical fire start at a lamp on the lower level. The fire department was called around midnight.

"We responded at 12:08 a.m.," said Ottumwa Fire Chief Tony Miller. "At one point, we almost had it contained. [But] around 3 a.m. the fire went through the roof."

At that point, the goal became to protect surrounding structures, Miller said; that part of downtown has buildings close to one another. There's a small grocery store, a radio station and other businesses at that corner of Jefferson and Main streets.

By the time the department packed up more than 12 hours later, the structure was a wreck. What the fire hadn't destroyed, the thousands of gallons of water had flooded.

But even with the fire extinguished, there was danger. At the time, firefighters warned that the remaining three-story walls should be avoided. The walls just didn't have enough structural support to remain standing very long. The city of Ottumwa blocked off the alley (used as a through road) behind "El Rancho," but places like the American Red Cross were within falling distance of some of the walls.

Miller said all the paperwork was finally done and the insurance company had ordered the demolition.

"I've been hearing the 'booms' all morning," said Christine Ayala, who works at the Red Cross office.

The construction workers inspired confidence in Ayala, who said that despite the smashing and breaking going on, she had no fears about bricks or front loaders coming through her office wall.

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