The fire tore through the Shelter Insurance Agency building and a beauty shop on the square in downtown Gallatin Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities said the fire broke out around 12:30 p.m. Witnesses described to KQ2 what they saw.
"There was smoke and flames all over the place, the back and front.," said longtime Gallatin resident Trudi Burton, who watched as the buildings burned.
"About 15-20 minutes into it, the front of the building was engulfed," said Justin Moody, who came to the town square immediately after hearing report of the fire on a police scanner. "It took off pretty fast, the whole building didn't last very long.."
A Shelter Insurance office and Eileine's Beauty Shop caught the bulk of the flames. Occupants of those businesses, along with apartment buildings on upper floors escaped without injury, but the buildings will be a total loss. Smoke and water damage affected several other buildings on the block.
"A police police officer came in the door," said Dorothy Kingsley, who was working at Urban Charm, a clothing store two doors down from the fire. "He said you need to evacuate this building right now! There's a fire!"
A total of 75 firefighters from 13 different agencies responded. Crews say they worked well together.
"The initial knockdown was accomplished fairly fast," said Doug Hamilton, Gallatin Fire Chief. "It had already extended up to the second floor and to the roof. Our fire district does not have a ladder truck so we were unable to get above it at the time."
It took more than two hours to contain the fire. Onlookers could only watch what was happening in their small Daviess County community.
"It's tragic. We don't need anything like this," Burton said.
Investigators will now look for a cause. Residents say this will be a tough economic hit to Gallatin.
"Most of the businesses are on this side of the square," Moody said. "They've been doing a lot of work on that side."
"We can't afford to lose any of our businesses on the square. We're a small, struggling town as it is," said Kingsley.
One firefighter had debris fall on him while fighting the blaze, but he was uninjured.
Several buildings surrounding the burned buildings will be closed temporarily due to the smoke and water damage.
Authorities closed part of Route 13 in Gallatin overnight because of the threat of falling debris.