First Posted: 3/2/2009
Firefighters from three area departments responded Monday morning to a fire which ultimately destroyed two Mount Airy businesses.
A Mount Airy firefighter heading back to the Rockford Street station saw the fire and made the initial radio call to report it to Surry County 911 Communications, which then dispatched the Mount Airy Fire Department to the scene at the Red Barn Laundry and M.D. Grocery building at the corner of Rockford and Worth streets.
Firefighter Kevin Conner was already on duty for the 24-hour Monday shift and had picked up a fellow firefighter to take him home from dropping his wife off at Hospice with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Typically, in an instance like that, the firefighters will drive the departments fire support vehicle, which Conner said he did, just in case they come up on an incident.
I came up off 52 on Rockford, and as I topped the hill, I could see the fire coming out of the window by the Pepsi and Coke machines, Conner said Monday as he took a break from fighting the blaze. It was not out of the roof yet.
The owners were trying to unlock the door, and I called it in and then told them to back away, he said. I didnt even have an address. I just said Red Barn and everybody knows where that is.
At first, Conner said, he thought the fire was just coming from the soda machines and was something he could knock down on his own, but then he noticed the glow coming from inside the grocery store portion of the building, on the left side of the lower level.
Since I had the city support truck, I had a (air) pack on ready to go when the fire truck got here, Conner said.
Despite a quick 24-second response from the city fire department, which was dispatched at 9:06 a.m., and requested assistance about 15 minutes later from firefighters with Bannertown and Franklin volunteer fire departments, the building is an old, wood structure, Conner said, and you just do the best you can.
When the staff started arriving to work at Affordable Wellness, which is beside Hospital Pharmacy across Rockford Street from the Red Barn, employee Sam Ray said there was no sign of anything going on across the street.
But when Ray arrived at 9:30 a.m., he said, It was a lost cause. It was engulfed in flames.
There wasnt much more they could do, Ray said. Ive never seen that much smoke in my life.
Traffic, which was not as heavy as a typical Monday due to the snowy roads, was rerouted around the area by Mount Airy Police Department, while members of the Mount Airy Rescue Squad and Surry EMS assisted with medical standby.
The American Red Cross responded with refreshments for the firefighters.
The fire was reportedly 10-Charlie, or under control, at 10:40 a.m., but apparatus and manpower were still on the scene late in the afternoon and evening hitting hot spots and investigating the cause of the fire.
Neighbors watched from their homes nearby as the neighborhood store, which was built some 60 years ago as Weiner Burger, went up in flames.
At about 9 oclock, my girlfriend woke me up and said the Red Barn was on fire, said Jaimi Scott, as he recalled the events of the morning. This place has been here as long as Ive been here. I grew up going to the Red Barn with my friends, and Im 32, and now my son goes with me.
Mikes part of the family and the community. He helps everyone out. If you dont have the money, hell let you pay later. When the neighbor died up the street, he took food to the family. And when one of the neighbors had a grandbaby, he took them food, too, Scott said.
Instead of going to Wal-Mart, we would go to the Red Barn. It may have been a little more expensive, but youve got to support the community, he said.
Tr Scott, 6, Jaimis son, had just told a family friend Sunday that he wanted to go to the Red Barn to buy a Star Wars toy.
Generations went to the store, Scott said, as he stood in his yard, which is almost directly across Rockford Street from the fire scene. Ive never had anything so close to my home burn like this. We could feel the heat from the front yard.
Hopefully, hell open back up, Tr said, of owner Michael Nakhle.
Shortly after the fire was discovered and the smoke picked up, neighbors were called by the county can-call system and told to stay inside their homes because the wind and cold weather was holding the heavy smoke on the ground instead of allowing it to rise and air quality was poor.
Mount Airy Fire Chief Benny Brannock said Monday evening that officials have determined the fire was accidental, but they are unsure of the actual cause of the fire at 744 Worth St.
Damage to the building was estimated at $300,000, and another $100,000 in damage was reported to the contents. In addition to Brannock, Capts. Danny Vipperman, Chris Fallaw and Trey Leonard assisted with the investigation.
Twenty-one firefighters from Mount Airy Fire Department responded to the incident, along with two engines, the aerial truck, a support unit and the command vehicle.
From Bannertown, eight firefighters responded, and four firefighters and an engine came from Franklin. The countys Air Support Truck was also on the scene to refill air bottles for the firefighters.
There were two minor injuries to firefighters, Brannock reported.
Contact Wendy Byerly Wood at [email protected] or 719-1923.