LIMA, Ohio - Members of American Legion Post 96 in Lima know they can rebuild the hall that burned to the ground Wednesday morning. It won't be as easy to replace the contents.
The rows of framed photographs of the post's commanders since its beginning in 1923, a hand-painted mural, the veterans' plaques, the flags - everything was destroyed in the three-alarm fire.
"There are just a lot of memories in there for a lot of people," said Deb Conaway, a 25-year member of the women's auxiliary and wife of post commander, Rick Conaway. "I feel really bad for the older people because that was their home. They would come every day, have their own special spots at the bar."
Assistant Lima Fire Chief Rick Robinson said damages were set at $450,000 from the fire, which investigators believe started in the attic - most likely from some type of electrical problem. Investigators said the cause of the fire appears to have been accidental.
The last employee had left the brick building, which was built in the 1960s, around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday. Assistant Chief Robinson was the first to arrive at the scene at 3:04 a.m.
"The fire was blowing through the roof. It was quite extensive at that time," he said. "I have to think it had started over an hour earlier. It had to have been rolling in there for quite a while to burn through and be venting like it was."
The post had recently had a new roof installed at the hall, a popular spot not only for veterans but for wedding receptions and other community events.
Mrs. Conaway said members served 201 free dinners to the less fortunate on Christmas Day. Santa Claus was there and gave out presents.
"We're very, very community-oriented," she said.
Post 96 has more than 1,500 members, and its women's auxiliary has more than 800.
The post's annual New Year's Eve party has been canceled, although other veterans organizations in Lima, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, have told Post 96 that its members are welcome at their halls until the post can relocate or rebuild.
The post's bar and restaurant, known as the canteen, was open seven days a week for Legion members, while the banquet hall that seated 350 was regularly booked for receptions and meetings.
Mrs. Conaway said the post's 23 full and part-time employees were advised to apply for unemployment benefits. The post's executive board planned to meet again this morning but has not decided what to do next.
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