Fire ravaged an approximately 111-year-old structure just west of the Wise County Courthouse Monday morning.
The historic home hosted a breakfast for Decatur’s high school senior classes each spring in the late 1960s through the 1980s, and most recently it housed seven occupants among four apartments. Though none of the tenants were injured, they have been displaced by the blaze that charred the two-story wooden house at 500 West Walnut in Decatur.
Because of the extensive structural damage, a cause has not yet been determined. All officials have to work with are a few inconclusive leads.
“A gentleman said that when he left around 6:45 a.m., he threw a load of laundry into a dryer on the second floor near the front of the building,” Decatur Fire Marshal Deroy Bennett said. “The call came in about 35 minutes later, and when our first units checked on scene, they reported fire at the front of the building. It’s still inconclusive at this point. There’s no way we can get into the house now. It’s very unsafe inside.”
Units from Bridgeport, Alvord, Paradise, Rhome and Krum assisted Decatur with manpower to extinguish the blaze. The structure, believed to have been built around 1902, has been added onto multiple times over the years.
“Because of how old the building was and the added-on construction, accessibility was really hard for us,” Bennett said. “And with houses on either side and behind, we had exposure issues as well – which is why we kept calling for people.
“Plus, we knew the temperatures were going to keep rising. We wanted to have enough guys to keep revolving crews in and out.”
Wise County EMS set up a firefighter rehabilitation center near the fire – a tactic that proved effective. One firefighter suffered a minor cut on the hand, but was treated at the scene. No other injuries or cases of heat exhaution were reported.
“Everybody who showed up was a great help,” Bennett said. “We worked together and, given the circumstances, for the most part had a good outcome.”
Although the multi-family home is deemed a total loss, the fire did not spread to nearby homes.
Walnut Street was blocked off between State and Washburn streets most of Monday. With the fire located about five blocks west of the Wise County Courthouse, motorists were encouraged to use Main Street to get to and from the Square.
Units remained on scene throughout the day Monday until around 3 p.m.. A Decatur apparatus stayed through the night to monitor hotspots. Fortunately, the fire did not rekindle.
In fighting the fire, crews entered the building on two occasions. But as the fire progressed, command opted to attack from the exterior.
“We kept chasing the fire until we got to the point we felt the structure was unstable,” Bennett said.
Officials hoped to have insurance adjusters on site Tuesday to move forward with demolishing the home as quickly as possible “simply because of the possibility of its collapse” onto neighoring properties or even the street.
“It is leaning forward,” Bennett said. “I’m not saying it’ll fall onto a car, but debris could land in the road and people might drive over that. Or there might be people standing in the yard who could get hurt. It’s definitely a safety concern.”
House has a long history
Lora and Robert L. Thompson, manager of Wise County Abstract Co. in 1930, bought the home at 500 W. Walnut in 1918.
When he died in 1951, his wife continued to live there, renting apartments in the house until her death in 1967. Their heirs sold it to Charles Cocanougher, who used it as a rental property.
George and Elizabeth Long were longtime renters who hosted a breakfast for Decatur’s high school senior class each spring. He died in 1976, and she in 1987.
source: Decatur Main Street Historical Commission