05/03/04 — 79-year-old community landmark burns

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79-year-old community landmark burns

By Jack Stephens
Published in News on May 3, 2004 1:59 PM

A tremendous loss and a tragic situation was how community leaders on Sunday described the scene at the Wayne County Memorial Community Building at 239 E. Walnut St.

The building, a downtown Goldsboro landmark that had served generations, was destroyed Sunday in a fire. A State Bureau of Investigations special agent and a police investigator said today they were not sure what caused the blaze.

While some had speculated that lightning may have caused the fire, investigators also said it was too soon to determine the cause.

No one was inside the 79-year-old building when the fire was reported at 1:07 p.m. The building, which housed a swimming pool, a gymnasium and offices, was closed for the weekend.

"There's a lot of history in that building," said Allison Giroux, a swimming and water aerobics instructor who said a big class was planned for today.

The building was opened in 1925 and dedicated to Wayne County veterans who fought and died in World War I.

Goldsboro Mayor Al King called the fire "a tremendous loss. It's pretty much gone. We'll have a job now in determining how to bring it back. ƒ We'll have to put our heads together to find a way how to replace it."

State Sen. John Kerr said the blaze was "a tragic situation."

Goldsboro firefighters fought the blaze for almost three hours before it was controlled.

"It was fully involved when we arrived," Fire Chief Bobby Greenfield said.

The fire started in the cupola atop the roof.

City Councilman J.M. Warrick Jr., who was leaving his nearby church, said he saw the fire in the center of the roof and smoke coming from the eaves.

Bobby Williams, a part-time News-Argus photographer, heard the call and reached the scene in time to see the roof collapse.

"I'm glad it was no worse than it was," Greenfield said. "We had to shut down operations at least three times because of lightning and high wind. But we kept the fire knocked down enough so that it didn't start again and bother us too much."

The firefighters' effort also was hampered by chemicals in the building, including 75 gallons of muriatic acid, a commercial abrasive cleaner. A small amount of non-pressurized chlorine also was present.

"Overall, considering how close the exposures were," Greenfield said, "I think we did a good job in containing it to that building."

Firefighters had not gone inside the building by mid-morning, because Greenfield said it was too unstable.

Engine companies were rotated during the night to put out possible "hot spots." A police car also was stationed there to keep curiosity-seekers away.

Yellow evidence tape had been put up around the building and blocked off Walnut Street until investigators could get inside to determine the cause.

The first engine company arrived from the headquarters station in four minutes. Four other engines, both ladder trucks and a snorkel truck were summoned with a command car.

At least 45 firefighters responded, including Assistant Chief Ray Boyette's on-duty C shift. Many others were called in from Assistant Chief Gary Whaley's B shift, and a few from A shift also assisted.

A few firefighters reported minor bumps, bruises and burns. All were treated at the scene.

Greenfield thanked the Red Cross and Salvation Army for providing food and drinks for his weary people.

The chief also thanked two volunteer departments for their help. Pinewood assisted Station No.5 on a call to Quail Drive. Mar Mac also stood by in the event of another fire on the south side.

"Everything went well," Greenfield said. "We had concerns early in the fire when the first floor began to burn and started burning through the floor joists. We had personnel evaluate the basement, because there were 75 gallons of muriatic acid there."

Neil Bartlett, the director of the city's Recreation Department that oversaw the building's operation, declined to estimate the amount of damage. But after a fire less that three years ago, the value of the building was estimated at $1.6 million and contents at $150,000.

That afternoon blaze on Nov. 16, 2001, was caused by an electrical short in a dropcord. Damages were estimated $38,000.