Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

April 30, 2013

Formidable fire decimates downtown building

'So sad to see more of our history go up in smoke.'

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Despite obstacles, Jacksonville Fire Department officials are continuing their investigation into an extremely-destructive early Sun-day fire in downtown Jacksonville – one of a handful of such dangerous blazes in town memory.

Sunday's fire completely destroyed a building, damaged neighboring structures and killed a pet cat.

A lack of structural stability in the remains of the gutted building has made it difficult for authorities to continue their investigation – especially with Fire Marshal Dennis Tate currently on vacation.

But Jacksonville Fire Chief Paul White is moving forward. Gas and electrical appliances will be thoroughly inspected. The chief additionally has dispatched one of his captains to do some more sleuthing – starting Tuesday in the kitchen area where the fire began.

“We would really like to know how this started,” White  said. “It will be hard to determine but he might be able to find us something.”

As of Monday, fire authorities were wary of the walls remaining on the gutted building that seemed about to collapse.

“I know the city is contacting some private contractors to see about knocking down those still-standing walls,” the fire chief said.

No residents or firefighters were harmed by the explosive fire at 215 Main. It took place in the building that housed catering company Yum-Yums, between Dennie's Hair Design and Snaps Photography. The blaze broke out around 12:15 a.m. Sunday.

A resident who lived in an apartment upstairs from Yum-Yums reported hearing noises before the building was engulfed in flames.

“He said he heard two explosions,” the chief said.

“Where he was put him in the most danger. Three people lived there but he was the only one at home. Luckily, he went down the stairs and got out of there.”

The building was only a block away from the Jacksonville Fire Department.

Firefighters who arrived noticed smoke billowing from the back of the building where local business “The Love's Nest” was located.

Firefighters were able to wake the residents of the apartment there and get them out safely, although it was too late to save their pet cat from the smoke inhalation.

The damage from the blaze caused debris to fall on the other buildings.

“Bricks felt through the roof,” the chief said.

”They fell down and went through. There was a lot of damage.”

White said the fire started in the downstairs back of the building area around the kitchen area.

There was a firewall – a solid brick wall that extends to the roof – in  place to protect adjoining structures. The fire chief said the amount of wood in the structure could possibly have contributed to the rapidity of the spreading fire.

“When these buildings were originally built, they used wood instead of sheet rock,” White said. “Sheet rock is a good fire barrier. Modern houses all have sheetrock barriers.”

The chief said the fact that the Jacksonville Fire Department had its own fire ladder truck on the scene made a huge difference.

“The fire ladder help us contain this fire,” he said.  “We had three ladder trucks that joined us to help out. They all helped fight the fire with heavy streams of water.”

All off-duty and volunteer firefighters were called into combat the blaze. Firefighters from Gallatin, North Cherokee County, Earle's Chapel, Rusk, Bullard and Tyler came to assist Jack-sonville Fire Department and Bullard, Rusk and Tyler sent additional ladder trucks.

The volunteers pushed pumps onto ladder pipes and helped distribute hose.

The department's new firefighter monitoring system, which syncs firefighter gear with a central computer, was a huge success, the chief said.

“This is the first time we've really had a chance to use it,” the chief said.  

The destruction caused by the fire hit a chord with many Jack-sonville residents, who expressed sadness as the loss.

“As I came from church, I saw Yum Yum's is burning again,” said Facebook poster Beckie Kennon.“So sad to see more of our history go up in smoke.”

 

Jacksonville’s memorable fires

Including this one, there have only been a handful of major fires in Jacksonville in recent years. Here's a basic list:



Abell Pharmacy –

January 1980

The Abell Pharmacy burned and was de-stroyed  in January 1980, after years of its owner, pharmacist  James Ed-ward Abell, doing renovations in the evenings and on weekends. Abell chose not to rebuild.



“The Big Downtown Fire”' – January 1989

A January 1989 fire that spread from building to building left four buildings at a total loss and burned so hot – and radiated heat so far – that it was impossible to touch a glass front door at the former police department, remembers Mariann Lindsey, Jacksonville dispatch supervisor.

Starting at Elaine's on the corner of Commerce and Bolton, it continued  burning until it consumed the other structures, including a jewelry store and a bakery, she said.

At the time the city didn't have a ladder truck and one had to be ferried from Tyler.

“It burned for a couple of days and was a total loss,” Lindsey said. “Someone was arrested for arson and went to jail over that one.”



 Trinity Church Furniture Warehouse – November 2009

 The vacant Trinity Church Furniture manufacturing warehouse, across from Twin Oaks Nursing Home, was completely destroyed during a morning fire on Nov. 11, 2009.

Jacksonville Fire Department was alerted at 10:05 a.m.  and crews from Jacksonville, New Summerfield, North Cherokee, Bullard and Earle's Chapel fire departments were on scene shortly.

Oncor trucks were summoned to the scene to turn off the gas supply. Fire department officials said a 2-inch gas line ran behind the building.

The fire spread beyond the main structure.

Fire department officials reported several vacant structures in the area were a total loss.

They also reported the fire continued to spread at 10:42 a.m., when a small structure on the south side of the main fire was reportedly beginning to burn.

Also, the fire was spreading into the surrounding wooded area toward nearby residences.

Grass fire trucks and an air trailer were also called to the scene.

Crews were still on scene battling the fire at 2:18 p.m. that day,