Carter County suffers two major fires over the weekend

John Thompson • Updated Jan 23, 2018 at 8:22 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Benny Lyons has been a volunteer firefighter for decades, but he never experienced the anguish of two major fires he fought this past Friday evening and early Saturday morning.

As a member of the Stoney Creek Volunteer Fire Department, Lyons responded to a fire on Friday afternoon that destroyed the shooting range at Barnett’s Gun Shop and Indoor Shooting Range, 118 First Ave., Hampton. Because the shooting range fire happened during business hours, the alarm went quickly out and nearly 100 firefighters eventually took part in the effort to put out the fire.

The shooting range fire was the biggest fire in Carter County since the 2000 North American Rayon fire. Volunteer fire departments from five counties in two states and also from the Elizabethton Fire Department responded, bringing its 75-foot ladder truck, which proved a valuable tool in getting water into the center of the fire.

That fire was reported at 4 p.m. Chief Deputy James Parrish of the Carter County Sheriff’s Department said there was one shooter on the range. He came to the range master and said he may have inadvertently fired a tracer round into the backstop. The extremely hot round set fire to the rubber material that provided fuel for the fire.

Carter County Sheriff’s Deputy Christian Carrier said he arrived on the scene around 5:15 p.m., along with several other deputies. “I saw smoke coming out of the shooting range section of the building,” he said.

Once all the employees were accounted for, the deputies and employees began the process of removing guns and ammunition from the store. The merchandise was secured by the sheriff’s department.

Johnny Isaacs, chief of the Hampton-Valley Forge Volunteer Fire Department, said one of the main efforts was to keep the fire from spreading along the wooden wall from the shooting range to the store. The firefighters succeeded in saving the store building.

Many of the volunteer firefighters from Carter County were able to begin leaving Friday evening. The Hampton volunteers had to stay because the metal on the roof had collapsed and there were still fires and hot spots under all that hot metal. Carter County Emergency Management Director Gary Smith said a trackhoe from Summers-Taylor Construction Co. was used to move the metal out of the way and extinguish the last fames on Saturday.

After expending so much effort in Hampton, the exhausted Benny Lyons went home and tried to recover.

“I was really cold. I ran the bathtub full of hot water and just soaked,” Lyons said. With the bath over, he quickly fell into an exhausted sleep. But it was not to be a long sleep.

A fire in the garage of the Carter County Landfill was discovered by assistant landfill manager Randy Sparks. He came to work at 6:50 a.m. to prepare the landfill for the normal Saturday operations. When he arrived, he saw flames coming from the rear of the garage and from a truck parked outside.

Sparks immediately called Lyons. Besides being a volunteer firefighter, Lyons has been manager of the landfill for the last 10 years. He has worked tirelessly on a very small budget to improve operations and the landfill and the county’s recycling efforts. Lyons takes every fire he responds to very seriously. If he wasn’t such a strong supporter of his community, he would have quit being a firefighter when he became a busy landfill manager. But this fire hit him personally. He had looked for months to find a good deal on a used roll-on, roll-off truck. He finally found one for $80,000 and purchased it from his reserve funds.

When Lyons got the phone call, he immediately started putting on the firefighting gear he had just taken off a few hours earlier. His coat was frozen, he broke the ice to get it on. Then he rushed to the Stoney Creek fire station in Hunter and got a fire truck, driving it to the landfill. He was joined by other tired firefighters from Stoney Creek, Watauga, Roan Mountain and West Carter County.

When they cut a hole through the metal garage door, they discovered the fire had already burned out all the items inside the garage — equipment, tools, trucks, air compressors, welders and other items.

It was a devastating sight for Lyons. Ten years worth of effort to make the landfill better had just burned up. In addition to the trucks, there were new welders, air-compressors and hand tools, many purchased on grants he had searched for. On Monday, two days after the fire, Lyons was still burdened with deep sadness. Several county commissioners came by the landfill to encourage him. His usually calm voice sometimes choked with tears he was unaccustomed to showing the public.

Landfill Committee Chair Bobbie Gouge-Dietz is already making arrangements fro the recovery. She has organized an emergency meeting on Jan. 30 that will include County Mayor Leon Humphrey, County Commission Chair Robert Acuff, Budget Committee Chair Sharon Culler, Director of Finance Christa Byrd, Gouge-Dietz and Lyons.

“We will discuss what we are going to do,” Gouge-Dietz said.

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