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
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
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
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
Roadways were blocked off and hoses strung from as far as Cambridge on
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
“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,”
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
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
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
“It came real close to us,” Nu Wave owner Debra Johnson told The
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
“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,”
Judith (Judy) is the daughter of Opal Toney, award winning columnist for
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
“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
Many of the businesses they recall had already experienced loss and were
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
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
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
“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
“If people keep doing this crap, we’ll have to shut the doors,” she
said. “Then where are these people going to go?”