By Russell Hood
The Webster Progress-Times
The cause of a weekend fire that gutted four downtown businesses in Eupora was undetermined as of Monday, officials said.
Saturday evening’s fire consumed Classy Closet, Maryetta’s, Down on Dunn and M&O Couture. All are on the southeast corner of the North Dunn (Main Street) and West Fox Avenue intersection, with M&O being on the Fox Avenue side. All were closed at the time and no one was inside the buildings.
Assistant Fire Chief Steve Wells said a representative of the state Fire Marshal’s Office was here Sunday investigating the blaze and that the cause is undetermined at this time. Jimmy Forrester, Webster County Emergency Management Agency public information officer, also said the investigation is continuing and that “we do not know the cause or where it started.”
Wells and Cpl. Mitch Jackson of the Eupora Police Department gave reports about the fire response to the Eupora Board of Aldermen on Monday. They said the response to the fire went well, with the Fire Department being able to get the resources needed when needed.
Jackson is also an assistant fire chief but was on police duty Saturday when he spotted smoke from the fire about 5:30 p.m. He notified Webster 911, and the Eupora Fire Department responded soon after.
Fire Chief Richard Love was unavailable because of family illness and Wells assumed incident command upon arrival. Webster County EMA was also on scene to assist with any mutual aid from outside counties.
Eventually, more than a dozen fire departments were dispatched to help battle the blaze, including all Webster County fire departments. Counties dispatched were Choctaw, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Clay and Oktibbeha. Some counties were able to dispatch multiple departments.
The Starkville Fire Department, as it has previously, responded with its ladder truck.
Wells said firefighters did not rush into the buildings initially because of the risk of the fire getting out of control and because it was safer to have all resources on hand before entering. Wells said they assessed the situation, organized their resources and then cut a vent hole in the roof.
“It (the fire) eventually broke through the roof and was safer to fight,” he said. “We were able to contain it within that perimeter. … That fire was well on its way before Mitch discovered it.”
Jackson said the fire department’s plan was not to let the fire progress into FATCO on North Dunn or Consumer Credit on Fox Avenue. FATCO and Consumer Credit/Universal Check Cashers did receive smoke and water damage; Meek Insurance and the Progress-Times offices on North Dunn also had some smoke damage.
Wells said pumpers filled tankers with water from Whites Creek Lake and three hydrant locations. Water Superintendent Benny Neal said fire trucks pumped around 1 million gallons of water Saturday night, which is in addition to water that came from the lake.
Forrester said firefighters ceased operations between 11:30 p.m. and midnight Saturday. Eupora FD kept a crew on hand until Sunday morning, with Bywy and Tomnolen providing relief later. Firefighters kept putting out hotspots for the next 48 hours; Jackson and Wells said the fire would continue to burn for the next few days.
“We highly recommend that no one enter those buildings (which have been taped off) because of safety factors,” Forrester said.
Department heads at Monday’s board meeting commended all responding fire departments, with the consensus expressed that everyone worked together. Jackson and Wells said that during the past two years, the city Fire Department has been working hard to train for disasters such as Saturday’s fire.
Fire Coordinator/EMA Director Barry Rushing thanked all responding fire departments in and out of the county, and the city and county for providing fuel to fire trucks while going back and forth from the lake.
The Webster County Sheriff’s Department and Mississippi Highway Patrol assisted the Eupora Police Department with traffic control and coordinated through Webster 911 to get fire crews on scene as quickly as possible, according to the EFD’s Facebook page. Two NMMC-Eupora ambulance crews were on scene at all times to render aid to firefighters and the public if needed.
SuperValu, Sonic, Kangaroo Express, McDonald’s and area churches donated water and food for firefighters, officials said. Mayor Dan Burchfield thanked the Street Department for assisting Saturday night and coming out early Sunday to clean up.
James and Gwenn Rico own the Down on Dunn and FATCO buildings, while Mary Hendricks owns the other buildings that were gutted by fire. Gwenn Rico said Down on Dunn officially closed in January after she sold the Merle Norman portion of the building to Jacqueline Meek.
Wells told the mayor and aldermen Monday night that the city needs to encourage those who open or renovate a business to comply with the National Electrical Code published by the National Fire Protection Association.
This was the third major fire involving public buildings or businesses in the county in 1½ years, following those at the courthouse in Walthall in January 2013 and at Eupora High School this past March. Another downtown fire in October 2006 destroyed the Tower Loan building, the vacant Upper Cut Designs and Beaird’s Refrigeration Service & Supply.