According to Paul Ivey, chief of the Lumberton Fire Department, crews responded within five minutes of the 7 a.m. call, but it wasn’t soon enough to save the brick building at 305 N. Elm St. No one was injured.
“When the guys arrived, there was already fire coming out of the roof and through the front of the building,” he said.
Ivey said it had not yet been determined how the fire was started in the vacant building. The blaze blackened the exterior walls of adjacent businesses and gave off enough heat to bust the windows of shops across the street.
Connie Russ, the city’s downtown development coordinator, was among about 20 people who had gathered at about 8 a.m. on the corner of West Third and North Elm streets to watch as gallon after gallon of water was poured onto stubborn flames that continued to leap up between piles of rubble.
“This is really devastating, right here in the heart of downtown,” Russ said as she looked at the newly formed gap in the line of the city’s historic buildings and shook her head. “But, it opens the door to opportunities to rebuild and hopefully put something new there.”
The building belongs to Dick Taylor, who owns several buildings in the downtown area and operates an insurance agency in downtown Lumberton. He said Good Shepherd Church had just rented the building and was planning on opening for the first time this week.
Taylor, who was in a meeting in Chapel Hill when he got the phone call about the fire, said he immediately came back to assess the damage. He said it was "too soon to tell" what he was going to do with the burned-out building.
“It’s created a lot of hardship on all of them and it’s very sad," he said of the merchants who have businesses in adjacent buildings.
John Gorman, the owner of a business who shared a wall with the now-destroyed building, turned on the lights of J-V TV Repair at about 6:55 a.m. to find smoke coming in through an air-conditioning vent. He quickly ran outside to see what could be the source.
“When I cut out that back door and saw them flames,” Gorman said, his voice trailing off as he held up a shaking right hand. “Ain’t much that scares me but I saw the whole block going up.”
Wesley Washington, owner of Washington’s Men’s Store, said when he got to his store he saw the blaze from the building just down the street.
“When I first got here there were flames coming out of the top and front of the building,” Washington said. “I’m just happy no one was hurt and I want to give thanks to all of the firemen who did an awesome job containing the fire.”
Demetria Wesley, owner of 314 Hair Gallery, said that she was lucky her building was mostly untouched by the fire.
“We have some water damage and there was a little bit of smoke,” Wesley said. “Everything else seems OK, but we won’t know for sure until everything dries out and they let us go back into the building.”
Felicia Long, who had moved into a tiny shop on the other side of the building in August, said all she could think about was a U-haul truck full of acrylic bins she had just scored on eBay for a cheap price melting into plastic puddles on the floor.
“I’ve always wanted to own a candy store,” she said. “I’m from here and I went away to go to college, and I wanted to bring something sweet to downtown.
“How do I start all over again?” she said.