05/04/04 — Lightning ruled out as cause of Community Building fire

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Lightning ruled out as cause of Community Building fire

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on May 4, 2004 2:01 PM

"Lightning did not start that fire."

Special Agent John Rea of the State Bureau of Investigation made that emphatic statement today about Sunday's fire that destroyed the 79-year-old Wayne County Memorial Community Building.

Many officials had speculated that lightning from a severe thunderstorm set the blaze. But Rea did not have any further comment on the cause.

Community Building from William Street

News-Argus/Kaye Nesbit

The community building this morning from William Street.

Meanwhile, it was reported at the Goldsboro City Council meeting Monday that it was too dangerous now to enter the building to determine if any of the plaques with veterans' names could be salvaged. The plaques contained the names of Wayne County residents who lost their lives at war.

Rea said other agents, an SBI arson dog, Goldsboro police and Goldsboro fire officials completed their on-site investigation Monday.

Two samples were taken from the building to the SBI lab for analysis. Rea said he did not know when the analysis would be completed.

Police Maj. Jay Memmelaar said Sgt. David Kelly was to accompany the samples.

The building at 239 E. Walnut St. remained cordoned off with yellow tape to prevent people from being injured. However, the block of Walnut Street between William and John streets was reopened to traffic.

Goldsboro Fire Chief Bobby Greenfield said today that his people picked up the hoses Monday after they determined that there were no more "hot spots" that could flare up.

Two engine companies assisted the SBI and police Monday afternoon in trying to find the point of origin and the cause of the fire. They stayed for about three and a half hours.

"We might know more in a few days," Greenfield said.

The amount of damage and the value of the building and its contents had not been determined, the fire chief said.

When the building was damaged in a 2001 fire, it was valued at $1.6 million. Contents were valued at $150,000. But Greenfield noted that more work had been done on the building since the fire.

The building was opened in 1925 and dedicated to World War I veterans. Plaques to them and veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars were placed on the walls. Their fate was not immediately known.

Many residents learned to swim in the pool, including several city council members. The building also housed a gymnasium and office space.

What next?

City Council members expressed their grief Monday over the loss of a downtown landmark and praised fire fighters, police and other rescue personnel for their work to extinguish the blaze and keep it from spreading.

And they pledged to do what they could to help build a new community building.

"It was a great loss," said Mayor Al King. "I saw people out there with tears in their eyes."

City Councilman Charles Williams said it was a "devastating loss to the inner-city folks."

"It's devastating to anyone that used it," added City Manager Richard Slozak. "That building was deeded to the citizens of Wayne County."

Slozak said that a board of trustees was responsible for managing the community center, and the board was planning to meet Wednesday to discuss the situation.

He said he didn't know anything about the insurance on the building, except that it was a private insurance firm.

"The board of trustees governs all that," he said.

Slozak said that he knew a lot of people were concerned about whether the historic plaques inside the building had been preserved, but said it was still too dangerous to go inside.

After the SBI finishes its fire investigation, Slozak said, he would send Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianferra down to determine when it would be safe enough to check on the plaques.

Williams asked if there was any asbestos in the building, and Slozak said he didn't know.

"I commend the Fire Department on the excellent job they did," said Councilman Chuck Allen. "The way the wind was blowing, I thought everything on the end would be gone, but they kept it safe."

Slozak said the effort Sunday was truly an example of team work.

"The police got the area closed off to traffic; the water plant increased production," he said. "There were just a lot of things done that weren't even seen."

Councilman Bob Waller commended the Red Cross and the Salvation Army for helping out on Sunday.

Councilman Jimmy Bryan said that his children learned to swim at the pool in the Community Building.

"It will be missed by a lot of people," he said. "I hope we can be a part of building it back."

Allen said he thought the council should play a part in the rebuilding, which he said should be downtown.

"In our talks about the civic center, folks have said we need some type of recreational facility," he said. "Out of adversity, maybe something good can come."

Waller agreed that the city "should take an active role" in rebuilding the community center.

The council felt that perhaps another, bigger, location for the center would be preferable.

"And maybe we could turn that area into a park," Allen said. "We need more green space downtown, and that would be a good location for a park."

Slozak said it would be the decision of the building's board of trustees about what to do with the building, but he hoped the center would stay downtown.