Some streets remain closed as cleanup continues

Published 5:00 am Friday, May 25, 2007

A block of Monticello Street between Whitworth and Jacksonstreets remained closed today as firefighters continued to quellhot spots throughout the day and night Thursday from a fire thatconsumed four downtown Brookhaven businesses in the early morninghours.

“It’s going to smoke for a while,” said Brookhaven Fire ChiefBob Watts.

Firefighters quickly put down one sizable flare up in the latemorning hours Thursday, but since have primarily been maintaining asafety watch on the buildings, he said.

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During the night, officials decided to seal off Whitworth Streetbetween Monticello and Cherokee streets for safety reasons, Wattssaid. The front of the Tri-County Financial Loans business has aslight lean and officials are concerned it may fall toward thestreet.

“It doesn’t look real safe to have that road open the way thewall looks now,” he said.

A structural engineer contracted by the city was to tour theruins Friday morning, assisted by Brookhaven Building InspectorWalter Temple and other city officials, to determine the conditionof the remaining structure.

Officials are also concerned about the condition of a firewallbetween the Posey Place, which was consumed in the fire, and thebuilding housing Brookhaven Cycle and Sport and Crowley DanceCenter.

“It has no support on one side now,” Watts said. “Those are themain businesses we’re worried about being able to open up now.”

Several businesses along the affected blocks of Monticello andWhitworth streets never opened Thursday because of their proximityto the fire or lack of consumer traffic. But Watts said he expectsall of the unaffected businesses to reopen today.

Louise’s Family Fashion and Brookhaven Electronics will notreopen in the near future. They were also consumed in the fire.

The downtown area was sealed off from the public by policeofficers for much of Thursday morning while firefighters battledthe blaze. Officers were positioned on Court, Whitworth, Cherokeeand Jackson streets to divert traffic from the scene, saidBrookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson.

“We knew we had to set up a perimeter around the fire,” hesaid.

The perimeter helped secure the scene for those fighting thefire as well protect the public from their own curiosity, Hendersonsaid. Even after officers were able to release certain streetsaround 10:30 a.m., they maintained a presence in the area to keeptraffic moving.

“We knew there would be a lot of sightseers and we kept our eyeson certain intersections,” he said. “As they got backed up, wewould get out and work those intersections.”

Henderson praised both his officers for their quick reactions inestablishing the perimeter and the public for theircooperation.

“We had no complaints,” he said. “It could have been a lotworse, and I think everyone realizes that. We appreciate everyone’scooperation (Thursday) morning and their patience with us.”

Emergency officials also received strong support from CanadianNational Railroad.

Henderson said railroad officials never hesitated when hecontacted them to ask that they hold their trains during thecrisis.

“We had the train shut down for a while because we had hosesacross the tracks,” Watts said. “That’s a main line on the otherside.”

Henderson said the tracks were closed for about an hour and ahalf at the fire’s peak.

The police chief also praised the volunteers from several countyfire departments, who manned the city fire stations in the event ofa second call and assisted at the scene by providing additionalwater and manpower.

“I think they did a remarkable job,” Henderson said. “They werevery helpful in doing whatever needed done.”

Watts also praised the volunteers.

The officials said countywide drills conducted in recent yearshelped them to coordinate their efforts and respond quickly to theblaze.

“You have to be prepared for what we did today and hope and prayit never happens,” Henderson said Thursday afternoon.