Clues sought in Friday fire

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, October 2, 2001

State and local fire officials are continuing to try todetermine the cause of an early Friday morning blaze that destroyedtwo buildings and gutted several businesses.

“It’s still too hot to go in there,” said Fire Chief PaulCartwright Friday afternoon as firefighters wet down some hot spotsin the burned buildings near the intersection of Highway 51 andHighway 550.

The state fire marshal visited Friday and Saturday to inspectthe scene and talk to tenants of the buildings. Cartwright said theinvestigation would resume Monday.

“We’ve interviewed the people to see what kind of materials theyhad in there and how they had things laid out,” Cartwrightsaid.

Cartwright said officials believe the fire began in the far eastend of the strip of buildings. That area had the most extensiveheat damage, he said.

The fire was reported around 3:40 a.m. Friday. Three vehiclesand another building that housed Ben’s Sporting Goods was alsoafire when firefighters arrived.

One firefighter described the area as a “war zone.”

“The really bad thing was we had so much fire when we rolled upon the scene,” Cartwright said.

Three people renting apartments in the sporting goods businessbuilding escaped after being awakened by police officers. JohnLowe, 20, was treated and released at King’s Daughters MedicalCenter while Mitchell Brooks Smith and Kara McCurley, also 20,remained hospitalized in stable condition Saturday, KDMC officialssaid.

County volunteer firefighters from several departmentsparticipated in extinguishing the blaze while other volunteerdepartments were on standby in case of fires elsewhere. The firewas contained around 5 a.m., officials said.

Several businesses’ operations, included a medical supply storeand a check-cashing service, were affected by the fire.

Virginia Griffin, co-owner of Thrift Home Care, said Friday theywere looking for a new location. She said their McComb store hasall customers’ records and phone calls were being forwardedthere.

“We’re continuing business as usual,” Griffin said Friday whileworking a booth at the Ole Brook Festival.

Also, after its location was destroyed, AAA Check CashingService is scheduled to reopen Monday at 101 Highway 51 north,suite 16. The service is a payment agent for customers needing topay their BellSouth and Entergy bills.

“They will be able to take payments soon after they open,” saidJim Hedges, customer service manager for Entergy.