Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Local News

October 1, 2013

Downtown Palestine fire kills two, injures two firefighters, and remains under investigation

Jacksonville Fire Department dispatches ladder truck and firefighters to Palestine fire

PALESTINE — Two people were killed and a couple of firefighters injured early Saturday during a dramatic structure fire that destroyed one of Palestine's historic downtown buildings.

The two victims remained unidentified Monday — even their gender was not immediately made known — as their bodies were sent to the Southeast Texas Forensic Center in Tyler for autopsy, reports show.

While the structure at 119 East Oak Street was a total loss, authorities said the fire was contained to that one building and the heat caused only minimal damage to the surrounding buildings.

A couple of Palestine streets — specifically, East Oak from Ave A to Sycamore and Houston from Ave A to Crawford Street — will be closed for the immediate future until formally reevaluated for safety, authorities said.

The two injured Palestine firefighters were treated at the scene for heat-related injuries, officials said.

Meanwhile, the fire, which broke out about midnight Saturday, remained under investigation Monday.

According to a release from Interim Palestine City Manager Wendy Ellis, the State Fire Marshal’s Office — the chief arson investigator in the state — was contacted to assist in the investigation.

However, Jerry Hagins, state public information officer, said the state fire marshal's office hadn't immediately received the request as of late Monday afternoon.

Palestine Fire Department responded with three engines and a command vehicle, but the ferocity of the fire prompted the PFD to contact other agencies for help. Multiple volunteer departments responded along with off-duty PFD personnel.

Jacksonville's fire department officials dispatched a ladder truck and two firefighters to help, confirmed Jacksonville Fire Marshal Dennis Tate.

Additional resources were  provided by the Palestine Regional EMS, East Texas Medical Center EMS, Palestine Police and Palestine Public Works, reports show.

 Original reports were that four people were inside the building.

  According to the report issued by Ellis:

• Upon arrival at the scene, firefighters experienced heavy fire conditions in the rear of the building and heavy smoke throughout the structure.

•  “Within minutes of being on scene, the structure suffered the first of multiple collapses making it impossible for fire fighters to enter the building,” according to the report.

• Once the fire was extinguished, a search mission immediately commenced. Texas Department of Criminal Justice personnel assisted in the efforts by bringing in K-9 units to search the area.

The bodies of the victims were located about 4 p.m. Saturday, according to the interim city manager's release.

PFD Lt. Devin Jackson, the PFD's public information officer, was off-duty during Monday work hours and not immediately available to elaborate on the investigation.

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