Fire’s cause not yet determined

Becky Campbell • May 15, 2012 at 10:21 PM

Fire investigators spent a second day Tuesday at the scene of a warehouse fire, but still aren’t ready to say what started the blaze.

Johnson City Assistant Fire Chief Mark Finucane said there are still witnesses to interview before investigators reach a final conclusion.

Investigators on Monday determined there was no indication anyone was inside the building as it burned. There was some initial concern someone might have perished in the fire because it’s an area known as a haven for many of the homeless in Johnson City.

“The investigation at the fire scene is complete, however the investigation will continue,” he said Tuesday afternoon following a survey at the 1010 W. Main St. scene.

Part of that investigation includes the fact that there was no electricity to the building.

“We eliminated utilities as a cause,” Finucane said. “There are some interviews that still need to be conducted ... hopefully from those interviews we can glean some more specific information about where the fire may have started.”

Firefighters responded to the blaze around 12:15 p.m. Sunday to find the 100,000 square foot building about 50 percent involved in the fire.

The on-duty commander immediately recognized the magnitude of the fire and called for additional manpower.

“On the first alarm there were four engines, two truck companies and an incident commander. On the second alarm there were two additional engines,” Finucane said.

Those last two engines were positioned in the parking lots of businesses to the rear of the warehouse “specifically to bolster the protection of businesses on West Market Street,” Finucane said.

Firefighters had the blaze under control by around 3 p.m. on Sunday, but spent hours fully extinguishing it.

Finucane said several factors led to the fire moving so fast — the tar roof, the wood and timber frame and a damaged roof from last year’s tornado that helped feed oxygen to it.

Thick, black smoke billowed high above the fire and wind scattered it, as well as debris, across a wide area.

“There was ash and debris reported as far as five miles away,” Finucane said.

And while no one was injured during the incident, Finucane said “several of the units on the front took a beating,” referring to firefighters and apparatus.

The fire’s high radiant heat caused one window to break in a ladder truck, and some of the decal lettering bubbled up, he said.

“It was a very hot fire,” he said, likely due to the same factors that caused it to spread so quickly.

Finucane said the investigation is a joint effort by the JCFD Fire Marshal’s Office and the state fire marshal’s office.

He also said the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation assessed the scene for any environmental hazards, but he didn’t have any information of that department’s conclusions.

Finucane said there had been some concern about runoff going into a small creek that runs behind the building, but “that didn’t happen.”

According to the Washington County Assessor’s Office, the property is owned by 1017 West Market Partners.

According to the Tennessee Secretary of State, that partnership’s business license expired April 4. The mailing address associated with the license is that of Mitch Cox Realtor Inc.

The building was once a hub of activity during tobacco season when it housed one of the city’s several tobacco warehouse, and was apparently the last standing tobacco facility in the city until Sunday’s fire took it down.

The fire department would like to have access to anyone’s photos or videos taken during the fire. Finucane said it could help investigators make final determinations.

Photos and videos can be sent to Assistant Fire Marshal Lori Ratliff at lratliff@johnsoncitytn.org.

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