9 departments responded to Mississippi Mall fire

Published 12:19 am Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nine fire departments, seven of which are volunteer, responded to Saturday’s fire at the Mississippi Mall.

National Home Furnishings, a store located in the mall, caught fire Saturday, the cause of which is under investigation.

Picayune Fire Marshal Pat Weaver said the investigation is ongoing and he is waiting for the debris from the roof to be removed from the store. With the fallen roof covering the floor of the store, Weaver and his arson dog, Joanie, are having a difficult time finding a cause of the fire.

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Joanie is the department’s new arson investigator and is trained to sniff out the presence of accelerants that could be used to start fires. She became part of the department in September of last year and is the first and only arson dog in the county. Her presence in the department is part of a State Farm Insurance funded program that paid for Weaver and Joanie’s training.

Weaver said he is going to talk with employees at city hall to see if they can bring in heavy equipment to remove the debris from the floor.

Picayune Police Chief Jim Luke said only if the fire is determined to be a criminal act would a law enforcement agency get involved.

During the fire, the police department called in off duty officers to help with traffic and crowd control, Luke said. Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said if the investigation finds evidence causing Weaver to believe the fire was intentionally set, then the Picayune Police Criminal Investigation Division would assist Weaver with the case.

Of the nine fire departments that responded to the fire, seven were volunteer agencies. Picayune’s department was assisted by Poplarville’s Fire Department and Nicholson, Southeast, Pine Grove, Henleyfield, Carriere, McNeill and Derby Volunteer Fire Departments, Manley said. The nine departments fielded 76 firefighters that battled the fire Saturday. Volunteer agencies brought in two engines and four tankers moving about 60,000 gallons of water using their tankers. That does not include the numerous vehicles brought in by Picayune and Poplarville fire departments and the amount of water the Picayune trucks dumped on the flames using fire hydrants.

Leavern Guy said Clinton Baker, the curator of the Carver Culture History Museum which was housed in the Mississippi Mall, was inside the building when the fire took place. Baker was able to escape. While Guy said he could not state the full extent of the damage the museum sustained, he could say the museum suffered smoke, soot and water damage. Guy said until full access to the museum is granted, the full extent of the damage won’t be known.