09/26/04 — Downtown buildings damaged but not destroyed

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Downtown buildings damaged but not destroyed

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 26, 2004 2:07 AM

A fire that damaged an art shop and a warehouse in downtown Goldsboro on Friday could have been a lot worse, said a fire official.

"I have been here over 30 years, and that was the best firefighting I've seen here," said Goldsboro Assistant Fire Chief Jerry Langston. "They saved a lot of value."

If it had gone for five more minutes, the fire would have gotten out of control, he said.

An electrical power surge started the fire that damaged Amirian's Fine Art & Framing at 107-109 N. Center Street and the old Variety Theater next to it. The old theater at 111 N. Center St. was being used by Waynesborough Furniture for storage.

The fire did $50,000 worth of damage to the building, valued at $325,000, and another $15,000 in damage to the contents, which were valued at $200,000, according to the fire report.

Goldsboro's Chief Building Inspector Ed Cianfarra said that the store had a fair amount of structural damage to the rear staircase on the ground floor, near the living quarters.

But "mostly there was a lot of smoke damage," he said.

Cianfarra said the power has been shut off to the store where the fire started. Before power can be restored, the building will need to be rewired.

"Also, he will need to do plumbing work and work on the heating and air conditioning systems," Cianfarra said of the owner. "The store will be closed for a while."

Assistant Chief Langston said firefighters were aided in their work by new equipment: a thermal imager. This allowed them to see which walls were hot. A thermal image shows up where there is heat. The firefighters attacked only the walls that had fire and did not have to knock out the others. Four walls ended up being burned.

The owner of the art store, Jack Amirian, lives in an apartment that is in the same building as the art shop. He had been filling his Jacuzzi for his morning bath and was having his first cup of coffee when the fire started.

He said he heard the doorbell jingle. He knew it was his employee arriving to open the store.

She turned on the lights and air conditioner to both buildings.

Shortly after that, a fuse box 15 feet from him started crackling.

"It was a brand new box," he said. "Every aspect of the electrical in this building is brand new."

Amirian yelled to his employee to cut off the power. She already had, because the lights were flickering there, too.

The fuse box continued to crackle. The breakers would not shut off. The only other way to turn off the power was to pull the meter from the wall, but the meter was on fire.

Amirian grabbed his fire extinguisher and told his employee to call the fire department to cut off the power. He emptied the fire extinguisher bottle on the box. It kept crackling. Sparks were blowing into the other rooms.

The fire had broken out behind the breakers.

Amirian propped open the back door and decided it was time to get out of the building.

The telephones weren't working. Amirian's employee had run out to her car to use her cellular telephone to call the fire department.

The firefighters and Progress Energy workers were on their way. Other calls had been coming in so fast to 911 that it took a couple of minutes to find out where to send the firefighters, say fire officials.

As soon as the power was off to the buildings, the firefighters tore out the wall and put out the fire. The smoke eventually cleared at around 11:30 a.m.

Amirian went back inside the store. The back was ruined, he said. Parts of the wall had been ripped out. The rest of the buildings needed a lot of cleanup. Artwork, marble counter tops, mahogany and tile also were ruined.

On Friday, he was moving customers' pieces to the front of the shop, which was relatively untouched.

In 109 N. Center St., water was coming down through the ceiling and onto everything downstairs.

Amirian said it has been nine years, almost to the day, since another fire destroyed his business.

On Oct. 7, 1995, a fire broke out at his store when it was on Walnut Street. It burned to the ground.

He bought the Center Street buildings in 2000 and had made extensive renovations to them. That same year his business won the Most Attractive Award during the Wayne County Small Business of the Year ceremony.

This month, Amirian received the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp.'s Design Improvement Award. This award goes for significant design improvements to a downtown building.

Julie Thompson, executive director of the Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp., said she was heartbroken over the fire.

"He has worked so hard on that building," Mrs. Thompson said. "And it was a real gem for our downtown. It looked like something you'd expect to see in Architectural Digest."

News-Argus Staff Writer Barbara Arntsen contributed to this report.