The Northside Boxing Academy where Olympic bronze medalist Nico Hernandez is still training was gutted by fire Saturday morning.
No one was injured. Investigators don’t know a cause yet, but they ran a dog into the ash-strewn interior to sniff for fire accelerants. And investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives came to the scene.
All fires are investigated as cases of arson at first, said investigator Kelly Zane of the Wichita Fire Department. But he said at the scene that so far, no cause has been found and that the investigation would continue.
Investigators said the fire caused an estimated $75,000 damage to the structure and contents. The fire department got the first call at 6:35 a.m. Saturday.
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Emiliano Hernandez, the gym manager and Nico Hernandez’s uncle, stood outside the burned out gym, a former fire department station at 19th and Market, and said the fire has devastated a non-profit charity and a north-side community pillar.
He and strength coach Kenny Pedigo have spent years training not only an Olympian at the gym but currently 30 to 40 neighborhood boys and adults, giving them tough challenges and something to hope for.
It’s depressing, and we’re just going to have to start over.
Emiliano Hernandez, Northside Boxing Academy manager
“It’s depressing, and we’re just going to have to start over,” Emiliano Hernandez said. He stood among ashes and broken glass on the grass just outside the gym. Inside, among other valuables was about $10,000 in weightlifting and other strength equipment recently donated to the charity.
“I’m sick to my stomach right now,” Pedigo said. “But what we’re going to do now is show our kids what we’ve told them many times: When you fall down, you pick yourself up and keep going.”
Nico Hernandez won his bronze Olympic medal this summer in Rio de Janeiro. He showed up outside the gym for a few minutes Saturday after he heard about the fire, Emiliano Hernandez said. “But he just turned around right away and said ‘I gotta go home,’” he said.
“He’s probably thinking right now that ‘here’s another obstacle in my life,’” Emiliano Hernandez said. He said Nico has been training at the gym to stay in shape for whatever the next chapter of his career might be, whether turning pro or training for the 2020 Olympics or something else.
Hernandez and Pedigo said they coach for free at the boxing academy, setting goals for the kids and adults whom come there.
“The training is tough, and sometimes the kids don’t last because it’s so tough,” Hernandez said. “But we do it in part because we’re trying to turn their lives around and help them stay in school. Some of the kids and some adults who come train here are having trouble in their lives, and boxing helps them work that out.”
They have felt loved here.
Kenny Pedigo, boxing academy strength trainer
“They have felt loved here,” Pedigo said.
Pedigo said he had about $1,000 of his own weight-lifting equipment in the gym, besides the equipment recently donated by others.
He and Hernandez asked Zane at the scene whether they could go into the fire-gutted building and salvage equipment before nightfall, to protect it from being stolen. When Zane demurred, they then asked whether Wichita police could assign someone to stand watch over the property, or whether the city could board up the fire-shattered windows to keep thieves out.
“We’ve got to get it out or it is going to get stolen,” Pedigo said. Zane made calls and told them later that the city would try to do what it could.
Besides the gym fire at 1901 N. Market, there was a large fire at a home at 1556 North Park Place at about the same time.
The fire at the home was first reported at around 7 a.m. The house was fully engulfed, drawing multiple Wichita Fire Department trucks and close to two dozen firefighters.
Sandra Spechtenhauser, who identified herself as a friend of the home’s owner, said nobody lives in the structure, which appeared to be a total loss.
Contributing: Bryan Horwath of The Eagle