MOUNT OLIVE — Firefighters from five departments battled a blaze in the town’s business district for nearly eight hours overnight Thursday that destroyed a historic two-story building at 104 W. James St.
The building, valued at $250,000, was declared a total loss as were the contents that were valued at $60,000.
The roof caved in and most of the second floor collapsed, Mount Olive Fire Chief Greg Wiggins said.
The building, constructed in 1920, is owned by Belinda and Jose Parent and housed three businesses, The Purple Turtle, Shear Magic Grooming and Mount Olive Supply Co. The upstairs was vacant.
One firefighter suffered a minor cut on his hand, but otherwise no one was injured. No animals were at the grooming business at the time of the fire.
The cause of the fire is undetermined, but Wiggins said it could have been electrical in nature and is thought to have started on the rear of the second floor.
“It is not a suspicious fire by any means,” Wiggins said.
While firefighters were unable to save the building that was once home to Krafts Studio, they were able to prevent the fire from spreading to several nearby buildings.
An adjoining one-story building suffered smoke damage but no heat or fire damage. The two are separated by a fire wall.
The fire also threatened the old Center Theater building and Ribeyes Steakhouse, both located just across a 10-foot-wide alleyway from the fire scene.
The fire also endangered the law office of Bob Rice that is located in the former post office building that was constructed by the Works Progress Administration in the early 1930s, as well as a former bank building and old barn.
Mount Olive Tower 23 was set up beside Rice’s law office to help protect that building, and the Dudley tower truck was set up behind the old bank to protect buildings in that area, Wiggins said.
“We also had hose lines down the alleyway between the Kraft building and the old theater building,” he said. “We had a lot of exposures to deal with.
“We weren’t able to save the Kraft building, but we did keep it out of all of the other exposures. There was a lot of property around there that was certainly jeopardized. But there was no damage to them.”
Police officers called in the alarm after spotting smoke coming from the building, and firefighters were called out at 11:45 p.m. Thursday.
Dudley and Smith Chapel fire departments provided automatic mutual aid.
Firefighters also were called in from the Calypso Fire Department and later from Oak Wolfe Fire Department, bringing the number of firefighters on the scene to nearly 70.
Heavy smoke was seeping out of all four corners of the building when firefighters first arrived, Wiggins said.
“We knew we had a major fire,” he said. “We made three attempts to go into the building to try to see if we could get it knocked down, but it turned into a defensive operation. We set up the two ladder trucks that were dumping water in from the top. We had some blitz nozzles, some big nozzles out front throwing water in through the front of the building. I had to make a call and make sure that we had the train stopped because I had to lay a supply line across the train tracks to catch a hydrant on the other side of the train tracks.
“We did get the train stopped, lay the line and get Dudley’s ladder truck in service. As soon as we were able to, we freed that train up so it could get moving again because they had already sent a representative down here to check on things. By the time he got here, we were taking the line up. It had been a couple of hours.”
Around 2 a.m. Friday, Wiggins called Deems Blanton with the town’s public works department to let him know about the demand on the water system.
By the time Blanton arrived in town, low-water alarms were sounding.
Blanton turned on two wells in order to stay caught up with the water flow, Wiggins said.
The departments flowed a total of 300,000 gallons of water fighting the fire, he said.
“At one point, we were flowing 3,000 gallons a minute,” Wiggins said. “There is no way we could have done it without our mutual aid departments. Those guys come to town, and they all work like it is one department. Most of them are volunteers. They worked like Trojans for eight hours.”
The Red Cross responded and provided snacks and drinks for firefighters, and by daybreak Red Cross workers had sausage biscuits for the firefighters.
“We appreciate what the Red Cross did as well,” Wiggins said.