Late night fire guts The Baker House
by Dawn M. Kurry Richmond County Daily Journal
Wednesday night The Baker House, Richmond County’s only homeless shelter and Rockingham’s soup kitchen, was gutted by fire when the building beside it went down in flames.
Rockingham Fire Department, East Rockingham Fire Department, Northside Fire Department, Cordova Fire Rescue and Ellerbe Fire Department fought the fire through the night, said Rockingham Fire Chief Chuck Gardner, pouring “several hundreds of thousands of gallons of water” on the group of burning buildings on the side of U.S. Highway 1 in Rockingham, near the Holiday Restaurant.
According to Chief Gardner, the call came around 11 p.m. Wednesday that the building beside The Baker House was on fire.
“The two-story building was fully involved when we arrived on scene,” said Gardner. “The side wall collapsed which threw the fire on The Baker House. The power lines fell and we couldn’t advance until the power company came out and cut the power. The lines fell probably 5 or 10 minutes after we got on scene, and the power company got there about 35 minutes after we called.”
According to Gardner, the support structures inside the two-story building formerly owned by Privett Furniture Store were destroyed by the blaze, and the walls began to buckle and crack.
Gardner said the front wall of the two-story building was beginning to buckle and when it did, the debris fell into the highway, well past the yellow lines that divide the lanes. The City of Rockingham was called to bring a back-hoe to push the debris back onto the property, which now sits stacked at the edge of the gaping hole where the basement opens up.
“When the roof fell, it fell onto the second floor, which fell onto the first floor, which fell into the basement,” explained Gardner, standing at the edge of the property as smoke was still rising from the blackened rubble where the building had stood. Firemen continued to pour water onto the piles of debris and burned materials; the same firemen who had been up all night fighting to contain the fire. “This will smolder for days. We’ll have to keep coming out as it flares back up.”
The cause of the fire is yet unknown, and Gardner said they won’t be able to examine the site until the fire is completely put out.
“This building (the old furniture store) didn’t have power on it,” he said. “We still have to try to figure out what started it.”
Gardner is yet unable to say for sure how much monetary damage was caused in the fire.
Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris said he was concerned for the safety of everyone involved.
“I’m glad no one was injured,” said Morris. “I understand our firefighters were there for hours on end trying to cool it down and facing danger from electric wires. I’m glad they are safe.”
The brick walls of The Baker House still stand as a shell which Gardner said is solid and not at risk of collapse. But inside those walls nothing recognizable remains. The Mental Health Society ran the shelter and soup kitchen, and Chairman of the Board A.B. Thompson of Rockingham said the days of the shelter are over, for now.
Thompson had already gone to bed by the time the call came to him that The Baker House was on fire.
“I was in bed asleep,” he said. “I jumped up and put my clothes on and took off. The old Privett Furniture Store was burned out and the fire was in the lower section of our building. The roof was on fire and there was fire down in the bottom of the building. I thought at first they could contain it. It was a tar roof. Embers came over from the open space. There’s only a space of about 8 feet between the buildings.”
Thompson said he saw what was left of the shelter in the morning, although the area had been roped off and firefighters were still on scene, working.
“It’s not too pretty,” said Thompson. “There’s not much left in there. Clean up the mess, that’s the first thing we have to do. I talked to City Manager Mr. Crump. I told Monty, ‘You tell me as soon as you can what we have to do and what time frame you except us to do it (in).’ We are going to have to deal with the wreckage. I don’t know who owns (the old Privett Furniture Store). The Mental Health Society owns our building.”
With the space to have the shelter and soup kitchen gone, Thompson has already been pooling ideas.
“At this point, I’ve been thinking about an alternative,” he said. “The only possibility we have to keep the soup kitchen going would be to talk a church nearby into allowing us to use their fellowship hall. My personal opinion is they wouldn’t want us to move in and just take over and I wouldn’t blame them. There’s no way in the world we could rebuild. We probably don’t have enough money to clean up the mess. We have fire insurance but it’s a pittance, and with the support we get from (donations) we’ve been hanging on by the skin of our teeth and the grace of God for who knows how many years. The shelter is a done deal.”
“You always hate to lose property especially if it’s something that’s been part of downtown for decades,” said Mayor Morris. “That’s certainly a shame and perhaps (the shelter and soup kitchen) can be relocated to another location.”
The board will meet soon, and was scheduled to discuss opening the shelter for the winter, but must now meet to deal with a new situation. According to Thompson, the board will still continue with the soup kitchen in Hamlet.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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