Thursday, August 3, 2006

Fire destroys 4 buildings on historic Market Street
Monitor Staff Reports

Photos by Kerry Yancey
MABAANK–The fire started in a 30-year-old dry cleaning business in the middle of the block on the north side of East Market Street, around 4 p.m. Monday. The line of connected brick buildings were new – 100 years ago.
Electrical wiring is a strong suspect for igniting the bAlaze that called on 11 community fire departments and 90 to 100 firefighters.
Four buildings were destroyed before firefighters were able to contain the smoky inferno, which quickly spread through the attic. Tar and paper rooftops also fed the flames in the soaring summer heat in the upper 90s.
Intact firewalls, rooftop firefighting and a continuous barrage of water shot from the top of a ladder truck at 1,200 gallons per minute contained the fire after an intense two-hour battle. “The wind must have changed nine times, during the battle,” Mabank Mayor Larry Teague said.
It took much longer to extinguish the fire and mop up afterwards. Volunteer firefighters were still on the scene at midnight, and the fire rekindled around 4 a.m. and scene cleared once again by 6 a.m.
“Without the extra manpower and equipment this fire would have been much worse,” ARAonnie Davis, a Mabank bank manager said.
The withering heat and the ongoing battle drained away human strength, emptied pumper equipment, and depleted water supplies.
At 5:30 p.m., the Mabank water department shut down pumping stations serving customers north of Mabank and was forced to shut off water service to some areas within the city, to maintain water pressure to the hoses.
Out of city water users were not without water however, as storage tanks were able to service them, Teague reported, though at a somewhat reduced water pressure.
Roadways were blocked off and hoses strung from as far as Cambridge on Second Street.
Thick smoke blew across State Highway 198 obscuring vision as motorists were making their way home.
The Mabank Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary wrung out wet clothes to relieve smoke-choked firefighters and passed out bottles and cups of water, Gatorade and ice to refresh those struggling with heat exhaustion.
“A lot of plain citizens helped with donations of bottled water, ice. There are many folks to thank for how well things went yesterday,” city councilman Johnny Adams said during a council meeting the next day. “You saved city hall,” city administrator LouAnn Confer said to Fire Marshal John Holcomb. “I’ll never give you grief over that ladder truck again,” she added.
Mabank City Hall is on the same side of the street as the fire at the end of the mall.
Fire units from Kemp, Gun Barrel City, Payne Springs, Tool, Seven Points, Kaufman, South Van Zandt County, Whitton, Scurry and Canton responded to Mabank’s call for additional equipment and manpower.
“We had good response from the surrounding communities,” Teague said. “And our guys responded quickly. We can all be proud of our firefighters, police department and city employees because they did well,” he added.
It all began when, drop-off 3 For 2 Cleaners employee, Ruth Belcher, reported hearing a “pop” from the back of the store and upon going back to investigate, saw a “flame crawl up a wall” from near the floor. She threw water on the flames, called for help and ran outside.
A police officer was running toward her with a fire extinguisher.
“It went so fast, by that time, it was out of control,” Belcher said.
Mabank Fire Marshal John Holcomb said the first firefighter on the scene, reported the back room was fully involved when he arrived.
The business has two employees, and neither was injured by the fire, owner Tommy Poland told The Monitor.
“That’s the blessing, that no one was seriously injured,” Poland said.
There were no chemicals or solvents used in dry cleaning on the premises, he said. Though there was some old equipment, it had been drained long ago.
“We didn’t even have gas service to the building,” Poland added.
The production end of the business is in Athens. “It’s possible that many of our customers’ garments will have been in Athens at the time of the fire,” he said.
Neighboring business owner Don McAfee of McAfee Insurance Agency ran outside his office and saw the same police officer with an extinguisher. He reported the smoke was so thick, he couldn’t see his truck parked 20 feet away.
He was able to make just one pass through his office, retrieving a laptop computer and other valuables before the smoke was too thick to risk another pass. He lost everything.
“It spread so fast, in a matter of moments it was gone,” he said.
Bride-to-be Courtney Starnes was sure her $700 wedding dress was doomed when she saw the smoke as she was driving by.
“We almost had a wreck because I screamed,” Starnes told the Tyler Morning Telegraph.
Assistant fire chief Kyle McAfee had just dropped off clothing for cleaning just 15 minutes before the fire was sighted. He continued down to the police department and across to the back of the fire department, where his office is located.
“I have on my only pair of shorts,” he said. “I’m taking clothing donations,” he joked in an after-fire interview.
Nearby law offices and Nu Wave Internet Solutions were evacuating their files and equipment just in case, while additional firefighting units were called in.
Nu Wave was upwind as was The Dance Connection, and both were spared substantial harm.
“It came real close to us,” Nu Wave owner Debra Johnson told The Monitor.
The fire also disrupted Internet service to about 300 of her customers Monday night and was restored at about 10 a.m. the next day.
Angie’s Southern Salon, reportedly undergoing a renovations, and a vacant building were destroyed.
Efforts to reach Angie Mellorn were unsuccessful.
Two other building occupants, one used for a Christian youth ministry, suffered smoke and water damage.

Some recall historical Market St.
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

MABANK–Monday afternoon, an alarm went out announcing a fire was raging in downtown Mabank.
Citizens gathered to watch the volunteer firefighters from Mabank and nine surrounding communities as they tried to save almost 100 years of history.
“It just made me sick,” Judith Toney, Mabank native said.
Her feelings summed up how many old-time residents felt as the buildings they recalled from another decade disappeared forever.
The youth ministry building, she recalled, used to be a hardware store, and the Toney family lived behind it.
“We (her siblings) would run through the back door and out the front door and across the street to the drugstore. It was the fastest way,” she said.
Judith (Judy) is the daughter of Opal Toney, award winning columnist for The Monitor
Opal also recalls the store owned by Leon Boatwright.
“The first television I ever watched was upstairs, over the old hardware store. Leon would tell me to go up and watch TV,” she said, adding the upstairs was also where he stored the caskets for sale.
When Opal was growing up Mabank was a bustling community.
“Mabank was the central place to come shopping. Everbody came to Mabank to shop,” she said.
She recalled the busy community had two banks, both on Market Street and there were three department stores.
“B. Harris & Company was the main place to shop. That’s where you could buy drygoods and groceries,” Opal explained.
There were three drugstores and three doctors – as each drugstore had a doctor’s office above it, all on the same side of Market Street, she recalled.
“Behind the hardware store was a live poultry and egg business, where people brought their chickens and eggs to sell,” Opal said.
“There were several grocery stores on Market Street and several hamburger cafes,” Opal recalled.
The recollections of Opal and her daughter come from the 1930s through today.
Many of the businesses they recall had already experienced loss and were rebuilt.
In September of 1920, four brick buildings located in downtown Mabank were destroyed in a fire similar to Monday’s destruction.
The buildings lost were on the south side of Market Street.
One building was occupied by the Woolverton & Son Grocery on the lower floor while the upstairs portion was occupied by the Woodmen of the World, Osborne Land Agency office, Jones Millinery Shop and the mayor’s office.
The other buildings were occupied by the City Drug Store, Plain Price Store and B. Harris & Company.
The devastating fire was fought by a loosely organized bucket brigade.
A charter fire department member, Thornton Jennings, was quoted in Mabank, Texas History as recalling the brigade as, “a disorganized affair with people running about dashing buckets of water.”
Following the 1920 fire, Mabank citizens had enough.
They decided something had to be done and in September 1921, the Mabank Fire Department was formed with 36 charter members.
The first fire device consisted of two, 30-gallon drums for holding water on a two-wheeled cart.
Pressure was built-up by a mixture of soda, water and sulphuric acid in the drum and discharged through a one-inch hose.
Eighteen men pulled the cart by two long ropes attached to the tongue of the cart.
One can only wonder what impact such a device would have made on a fully-engulfed fire involving four buildings.

Dumpers trash FRC entrance
Monitor Staff Reports
GUN BARREL CITY–Family Resource Center workers were dismayed to find a small mountain of trash blocking the entrance to the Center early Monday.
“We try to help people, and this is the thanks we get,” Center bookkeeper Debbie Tarno said. “We have to pay to haul this stuff off.”
The FRC spends more than $125 a month to have a dumpster on the grounds, but it costs the Center extra to have that dumpster emptied more often, and additional trash – such as what was dumped on the FRC’s doorstep – means additional cost.
Center director John Muirhead said the FRC works hard to generate funds to help families in need pay utility bills and other major expenses.
“We can’t afford to spend time and money dumping this stuff for them, when we’re trying to help families,” Muirhead said.
“It’s a shame, because the Resource Center tries to help people,” he added. “It just breaks your heart that just a few people can cause so much trouble and heartache.”
The dumpers must have struck overnight Sunday/Monday, because the area was clear Sunday, Tarno said.
“It looks like they just backed up here and shoveled it out,” she added. “It’s all trash – I see very little in here that might be salvageable.”
Tarno said the FRC will ask Gun Barrel City police to investigate the incident as illegal dumping, adding the Center will prosecute the dumpers.
“If people keep doing this crap, we’ll have to shut the doors,” she said. “Then where are these people going to go?”