Firefighters have an idea where Law Office Building blaze started
It may have been the worst Monday ever for more than a dozen Maryville business owners and their staff who were greeted by fire trucks and other rescue personnel who had been on the scene at Law Office Building, 306 S. Washington St., since about 5 a.m.
One tenant, Mary Beth West Consulting LLC, 324 S. Washington St., summed it up early Monday morning on the company Facebook page: “So much for a Happy Monday. With the fire at our office building this morning, we’re breaking out the MBWC crisis plan! Thx to everyone for keeping your fingers crossed for us!”
According to Maryville Deputy Fire Chief David Hodges, Maryville firefighters were dispatched at 5:04 a.m. and arrived at 5:10 a.m. The fire was under control at 9:47 a.m., and personnel stayed on the scene until 11:31 a.m.
About 24 firefighters were on the scene with two engines and two ladder trucks, including one sent from the Alcoa Fire Department. The Blount County Rescue Squad was also on the scene.
“What we think happened was that it was an electrical fire in a closet, and it got into the wall and spread into the attic,” Hodges said. “A sprinkler outside the closet activated and helped where it was at, but (the fire) got into the wall and above it, and spread into the building.”
Hodges said interior and roofing crews were on the scene to get the smoke out of the building. “We could tell the building had a lot of fire in attic,” he said. “The building was unsafe for them to go on the roof, but we did a defensive attack to control the fire from the street.”
There was major damage to most of the building, but no one has been reported injured.
Investigators are looking into the electrical system that may have caused the fire, and the damage was estimated at $500,000, Hodges said.
“The offices are salvageable,” he said. “Hopefully they can rebuild and get back to work, but it’s going to be a while.”
Firehouse Subs, which is located just up the road at 419 S. Washington St., provided sandwiches and iced tea for emergency personnel.
Building owner Richard Bishop, who learned about the fire at 5:04 a.m., said the structure is actually five buildings that date back to the 1920s to 1930s. Bishop said by 1959, Henry Law had purchased all of the buildings and had renovated them all under one roof.
Law told The Daily Times Monday that three of the original buildings faced Washington Street and housed Southern Cafe, a sewing shop and a grocer.
The Law Building used to be home to Law’s Interiors before being renovated by then-owner Henry Law to include offices pre-wired for cable Internet access and T-1 phone lines.
Bishop said he and Al Wilson purchased the building in 2006.
Anxious business owners and their staff were found Monday morning gathered near the scene.
“We don’t know the conditions yet,” said attorney Billy Gribble, of Gribble, Carpenter and Associates LLC. Gribble said his offices, listed as 372 S. Washington St., are located in the basement.
“They wouldn’t let nobody in,” he said, but expected to find the basement flooded. “We’re going to hope for the best.”
Missy Johnson, of Kingdom Design Ministries, was watching the scene from a chair at a service area set up by Blount County Rescue Squad’s Special Operations Unit, which responds when local fire departments are battling two-alarm fires and higher. The unit provides food, water and “medical rehab,” checking firefighters’ vital signs.
“I got the call about 7:30 a.m. from another tenant, Andrea Carpenter,” Johnson said. Carpenter is vice president of The Ewing Group Financial Services, 332 S. Washington St., and Johnson said she is president of Kingdom Design Ministries’ board of directors.
“It’s kind of a little studio space,” Johnson said while fighting back tears. She’s been told that the basement, where the ministry has been located for a little more than a year, is flooded. “It’s kind of a little swimming pool right now.”
According to its web site, Kingdom Design Ministries is located at 334 S. Washington St. and creates “dream rooms for children who have experienced devastation in their young lives.” Johnson sadly noted that the ministry is uninsured.
West said that she was taking her daughter to school nearby, and was driving along Washington Street when she saw the fire engines at the building.
“I knew that something was wrong,” West said. “I immediately diverted my eyes to see smoke out of the Law Building and immediately knew I was in for a long day.”
West said as a public relations, marketing and communications firm, they’ve had a basic response plan for the company since we moved into their offices 4 1/2 years ago.
“I got on the line with all employees that we had a conference call at 10 a.m., and would give them a full update on what’s going on. I sent an immediate email to our clients alerting them of the situation and to have additional time before responding to emails. It turned out we worked as normal.
“We anticipate our office may very well be a total loss,” West continued. “We are still on standby from our landlord to let us know what the full extent of the damage was.”
West later announced her firm was moving to an interim office at the Mountain View Building, 3401 Russ Circle, in Alcoa.