Bristol Va. fire marshal says investigation likely to be difficult

BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) — Oak Street resident Vera Lewis-Dean woke up to the popping sounds of a fire around 5:45 a.m. Tuesday.

“I looked out, I seen the glow of the red and I was like, ‘Oh, no, the school board office is on fire,’ so I immediately called 911,” Lewis-Dean told News Channel 11.

Lewis-Dean said the fire was mostly contained to the back of the two buildings when she called first responders, but that wasn’t the case for long.

Bristol Virginia Fire Chief Mike Arnold told News Channel 11 crews found the building engulfed in flames when they arrived around 6 a.m.

Firefighters had the flames under control by 7:20 a.m., but the building was too damaged to salvage.

Demolition crews knocked down the historic former school and office building, leaving behind a pile of rubble for fire and police to sort through searching for evidence of the fire’s source.

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Fire Marshal Eric Blevins told News Channel 11 that the investigation could be a lengthy one.

“Anywhere that’s unoccupied becomes challenging because you don’t, you have a limited amount of facts,” Blevins said. “You’ve got very few people that say, ‘Hey, yes, I saw this or that.’ When you limit your information, you make everything else more difficult.”

Neighbors said having the vacant building nearby could be a nuisance.

“It’s been an eyesore,” Lewis-Dean said. “It’s had vagrancy. And they’ve have had called police so many times to come out and run people out of it.”

Blevins said anytime an unoccupied building burns, the potential of squatters is a concern.

​”We’re trying to make sure that we cover every base,” Blevins said. “We’re checking out, everything is as we go through it.”

Crews continued to search the rubble and extinguish small fires through Tuesday evening.

“At this time the Fire Marshal and other fire investigators are on the scene at Oak Street working to determine the cause of the fire. Due to the magnitude of the fire damage, it is going to be a very slow process sifting through the rubble. Also, because of the damage to the structure, there is a threat of further collapse because the structure has been severely weakened and is unsafe. So, investigators have to work very slowly and methodically. It may be a few days before a cause is determined.”

Fire Chief Mike Armstrong

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