Commonwealth Journal

October 31, 2012

Fire ravages apartment building

Pulaski deputies helped prevent further damage to downtown area

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

A downtown apartment building went up in flames early Tuesday morning, and the actions of two sheriff’s deputies may have prevented an even bigger disaster.
The building on West Columbia Street, across from the old courthouse, caught fire at about 2 a.m. Captain Junior Fortenberry of the Somerset Police Department said that while the cause of the fire is still under investigation, it appears to have begun in the furnace room and spread upward though the building.
“It traveled up the wall and got into the attic and roof area,” said Fortenberry. “The furnace room and the roof has the most damage.”
A resident of the apartment building who identified herself as “Mary” said that, as she understood it, the furnace had been turned on that day in anticipation of colder weather.
When the fire struck, a loud noise took her by surprise.
“I heard the awfulest popping sound,” she said. “The next thing I know, (first responders) were knocking on the door, tellin’ us to come out.”
Sheriff’s Deputies Danny Pevley and David Wilson noticed the smoke coming from the building when they arrived back at the sheriff’s office in the early hours. 
“They got all the people evacuated, got them notified and out (of the building) before we were even on the scene,” said Fortenberry. “If not for them being there, there could have been the possibility of fatalities. We owe a lot of thanks to them.”
A large metal gutter also fell off of the room and onto the ground below, but no one was harmed.
Making the fire more dangerous was the strong winds in the area that night. 
“The wind was spreading (the fire) a lot faster than it normally would have,” he said. “We were worried about it circling around and catching other (nearby) buildings on fire.”
Several commercial office buildings, lawyer’s offices, and other apartment buildings were also in the immediate vicinity, causing a threat to numerous properties had the worst-case scenario occurred.
Fortenberry said the fire department used foam and a “snorkle” or “telesquirt” device on a long tube to help put out the fire, as well as a ladder truck to spray the roof from a high elevation.
Electricity and gas were turned off for surrounding building to help increase safety precautions.
About five or six of the building’s apartments had tenants, said Fortenberry. While he said they weren’t affected as bad as the furnace room or roof, there was still water and smoke damage, and one downstairs apartment had a partial ceiling collapse from the water load.
Assisting at the scene was the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department, Somerset Police Department, State Fire Marshal, and Parkers Mill, Science Hill, and Ferguson Fire Departments.
Fortenberry said that results of the investigation will likely be available in a couple of days, and no foul play is suspected.