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Cause of Thursday blaze still uncertain

As crews of firefighters manned the scene of a Thursday blazethat destroyed several downtown businesses, questions about how itstarted and what will be done now hung in the air like smoke.

Brookhaven Fire Chief Bob Watts said the state fire marshal’soffice was on the scene later Thursday and will return sometimeearly next week to help try to determine the cause of the fire.Meanwhile, a structural engineer will come in to determine ifanything can be saved.

“And I’m sure the insurance companies will send their owninvestigators, too,” he said.

Firefighters contained the major fire Thursday morning andcontinued to monitor “hot spots” throughout the rest of the day andthrough the night.

Firefighters said when they answered the call that came in at4:52 a.m., the fire seemed at first to be contained only to thePosey Place. Capt. Tony Weeks said, however, the fire seemed to bedeep in the group of buildings, but also that several obstructionsslowed crews from being able to reach the heart of the fire.

“It was hard to have to take time to unblock the stairwells,”said Weeks. “They had some stuff stored there so we couldn’timmediately get to the second floor.”

In spite of the fact that clearing the stairwell could have madethings easier for firefighters, Fire Chief Bob Watts said to hisknowledge the second floor of Posey Place was empty.

“That space wasn’t being used for anything,” he said. “Nobodylived up there, and there wasn’t even power up there. The propertyowner said she was aware the stairwell was blocked.”

Watts said the stairwell blockage might have been a blessing indisguise.

“Once they got it all cleared, flames came rolling down thosestairs,” he said. “Someone could have gotten trapped up there. Witha fire that large, it was hard to know what they were goinginto.”

Weeks, who ended up being positioned on the ladder and sprayingwater into the fire from the air, said the extent of the fire couldbe seen much better from that standpoint.

“All I could see up there at first was a lot of smoke,” he said.”But the fire was pretty much involved in all those buildings bythe time I got up there.”

And the damage, of course, was not all from the fire, but fromsmoke and water as well.

At the end of the day, firefighters remained to watch for andsquelch anything else that might crop up in the aftermath.Firefighters Buddy Thibodeaux and Aaron Welch manned the sceneThursday night, putting out “hot spots” that could only be seenonce the street was dark.

“We thought we’d just be watching for trouble,” said Welch. “Butwhen it got dark, you could look in there and see all these glowingspots.”

Watts said Welch and Thibodeaux fought the fire all night.

“By the time we get through we will probably have used more thana half million gallons of water,” said Watts. “At one time weprobably were putting out 2,500 to 3,000 gallons a minute at arough estimate.”

Other threats posed themselves throughout the day as the firewas fought and contained. Crews and officials had to warn people tostay away from the buildings, the structures of which had beencompromised and degraded by the blaze.

Around 10 a.m., a track hoe was called to tear down the mostdangerous parts of the crumbling structure.

Watts said the people who helped were greatly appreciated by heand his men.

“We owe so many thanks to all the people that brought food andwater and drinks to the scene and to the stations,” he said. “Ithelps us just to know that people care. The public has been a greatsource of encouragement.”