LAPORTE – The cause of a fire that heavily damaged Thanhardt-Burger Corp., the longtime maker of high-end picture frames sold nationwide, remains unknown.
LaPorte Fire Chief Andy Snyder said investigators quickly halted the probe in order to team up with the insurance company on the investigation. He said the state fire marshal's office also has been asked to assist in trying to determine what triggered the blaze.
"It was such an extreme fire, we're trying to piece this together yet," Snyder said.
Just after 3 a.m. Saturday, firefighters arrived to find flames shooting out the roof of the facility at 1308 Lake St. Snyder said the manufacturing portion of the company was housed in the 20,000-square-foot, single-story structure.
Snyder said about 50 percent of the structure where the assembly area existed was destroyed. He said flames did not advance to an office area or where fine artwork was kept in stock.
The company, founded 85 years ago, makes top-quality, handcrafted picture frames for customers across the country and operates a showroom that makes available fine paintings and sculptures obtained from Europe, South America and other parts of the globe.
The showroom is in a separate location in the area of Pine Lake Avenue and Polk Street.
Thanhardt-Burger Corp. is owned by Mark and Randy Krentz, who several years ago obtained the business from their late father, Carl Krentz, a former LaPorte mayor.
Randy Krentz said firefighters lifted up several hundred framed and unframed paintings off the floor and covered them with tarps to prevent them from coming in contact with water dripping from the damaged roof.
Snyder said the financial loss was well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Randy Krentz said the intent is to rebuild, but whether that happens at the existing location or elsewhere remains to be seen.
"It's a huge part of our lives," he said. "To lose something like that leaves you sort of hollow."
The company has seven employees.
Randy Krentz said he does not yet know the full extent of the damage. For example, some of the molds used to create various designs on the picture frames are a century old, and he doesn't know if they survived the blaze.
"A lot of history went down Saturday morning," he said.
The structure also housed Earth Angel Eco Art, which did not suffer any fire, smoke or water damage, Snyder said.
LaPorte business heavily damaged by fire
WSBT photo // Stan Maddux (March 19, 2013)