Poplarville ponders recovery from devastating fire

Published 8:08 pm Friday, December 22, 2006

Poplarville Fire Department firefighters consider themselves lucky they were able to keep the fire from spreading to the surrounding buildings in other city blocks, said Poplarville Fire Chief Kris Foster.
Foster said he is still suspects the cause of the fire to be electrical and that it may have originated from The Other Side, a business located in one section of the burned buildings. He said when the firefighters arrived on scene, they witnessed flames emanating from a window of The Other Side in the northeast corner of that building.
One other business was affected by the flames early Thursday morning, the Kloze Klozet Too at the south end of the block. The Masonic Lodge — built around 1924 — at the north side of the block also was destroyed, Foster said. All that remains there are a series of metal steps in the back, which led up to the second floor where Masonic Sherrard Byrd Lodge #353 and the Eastern Star chapter held regular meetings.
Thursday afternoon, the Poplarville Fire Department was still dousing hot spots in the rubble that was once a thriving set of locally-owned stores.
A main issue with the fire was the way it got so hot so fast, spreading so quickly to the surrounding buildings, Foster said.
Thanks to the assistance of nine other departments, including Picayune’s more than 20 miles south of Poplarville and which showed up with its ladder truck, the fire was contained to the one block and further damage to surrounding buildings was avoided, Foster said.
“With (Picayune) being here, it saved us from a lot of possible damage,” Foster said.
Heat from the flames across the street were beginning to affect the glass in Pearl River Drugs and Apple’s, Ltd.’s front windows, both of which showed zigzag cracks in several spots.
The fire call came in about 3:15 a.m. and it took about an hour and a half to get under control, Foster said. Before it was controlled, power was knocked out to the surrounding area when flames rose high enough to reach power lines.
Poplarville Mayor Billy Spiers said power was restored at about 11 a.m. by Mississippi Power, although employees at Apple’s said it was about 1 p.m. before electricity returned to that store.
A saving grace of the fire involved the generators purchased earlier in the year for the two city water wells, Spiers said. When the fire knocked out power to the area, it also knocked out the pumps that provide water to the city. Spiers said those generators kicked on right after power was lost.
“Without those generators, we’d have been without water, period,” Spiers said
Late Thursday afternoon city crews were cleaning the street and sidewalk in front of the burned-out buildings so people with last minute Christmas shopping would have more places to park.
As they were at work a woman from Bogalusa rounded the corner at the Back Yard Bookstore across the street. Patty Marcomb had come to town to do some last minute Christmas shopping at The Other Side and was confused when she didn’t see the store, thinking she was in the wrong block.
She said she would miss the store because of the many unique items it carried for gift-giving.
By afternoon business had returned to normal —mostly — at Apple’s as shoppers browsed though the store. Pam LaHaye of Apples said they even managed to do a wedding fitting that morning before power was restored with light made possible by a small generator.
Spiers said he hopes the area will be rebuilt soon, but said affected store owners will need to settle with their respective insurance companies first.
Clean-up of the debris left behind will be on hold until the Fire Marshal can investigate the fire thoroughly, Spiers said.
“I hope they can clean this mess up and build back better than ever,” Spiers said.
The saddest part for Spiers is that so many of the business owners had put their lives into building their livelihoods, only to lose them in an hour and a half fire. Spiers is still optimistic, especially after all that the town went through with Hurricane Katrina.
“We’ll come back — Poplarville was hit bad when Katrina came through here, but we bounced back,” Spiers said. “This is a little worse than Katrina but we’ll come back.”
The owner of the building that housed The Kloze Klozet, Thomas Rawls of Diamondhead, told The Poplarville Democrat early Thursday night that no decision has been made on rebuilding but indicated rebuilding is likely.
Rawls’ father and grandfather had purchased the building around 1900, he said, and started a general merchandise store. Rawls said that when he returned from the service after World War II, he joined the business and operated it until about 1960 when the new Sunflower shopping center was built further down Main Street past the railroad.
The Rev. Tommy Cumberland, who is a member of the Sherrard Byrd Lodge #353, said the Masonic Lodge would rebuild but a decision as to its exact location had not been made. If the current property is used, he said the building may be sited differently to allow for better parking and with a different building design. He indicated the decision on location would come within the next week or so, and that construction could begin as soon as a month.