Mayor: Arson ‘obviously’ cause of latest downtown fire
by Elane Jones and James Phillips
Sep 18, 2012 | 2823 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The former location of Cordova City Hall, which was severely damaged in the April 2011 tornadoes that hit the city, was damaged further Sunday when a fire broke out in the building.
Firefighters from several area fire departments were able to contain the blaze to the former city hall building. - Photo by Jennifer Cohron.
The former location of Cordova City Hall, which was severely damaged in the April 2011 tornadoes that hit the city, was damaged further Sunday when a fire broke out in the building. Firefighters from several area fire departments were able to contain the blaze to the former city hall building. - Photo by Jennifer Cohron.
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CORDOVA — For most of the day Monday, Cordova firefighters were still pouring water on the smoldering embers left behind by a fire that finished destroying the old Cordova City Hall Sunday night.

“We noticed smoke coming from the building between 6 and 7 Sunday evening and were on the scene until 2 Monday morning,” Cordova Fire Chief Dean Harbison said. “The building was completely empty at the time of the fire and has been since it was damaged during the April 2011 tornadoes.”

Harbison said firefighters from Cordova, Barney, Boldo, Hay Valley, and Argo arrived on the scene and managed to contain the blaze to just the city hall building. Cordova Mayor Jack Scott said he was thankful the fire didn’t get out of control.

“The firefighters did a good job to keep it to the one building,” Scott said.

Scott said Sunday’s fire was obviously arson.

“Somebody started it,” he said. “There was no electricity going to that building and it wasn’t spontaneous combustion. We know it was started by someone, but we don’t have any way of knowing who did it.”

Scott said the buildings could be demolished soon, but the city is awaiting approval from the Alabama Emergency Management Agency before that demolition can move forward.

“The insurance and the historical issues have been settled,” he said. “We went to Montgomery last Thursday, and we were told that we should know something by Oct. 31. I’m hopeful we can start the demolition at that time.”

Sunday night’s fire marks the third time firefighters have responded to structure fires at the tornado-damaged buildings in Cordova since April 27, 2011.

The first fire reportedly started when burning embers from a controlled burn were blown on top of some of the buildings on Main Street on Oct. 27, 2011.

That blaze destroyed six buildings, including the old Tallulah Hotel.

The second call was about three months ago when two separate fires were intentionally set, according to investigators with the Alabama Fire Marshal’s Office.

Those two fires damaged the Cordova Public Library and a former beauty salon located on the opposite side of the street.

A Cordova police officer spotted two young men leaving a fenced area which surrounds the buildings on Main Street just before the fires were discovered, and they were later brought in for questioning.

“We have two suspects who are currently waiting due process for arson in connection with the second fire, but we don’t have any suspects this time around,” Harbison said. “Two people were also seen coming out of the fenced area before the fire was discovered Sunday evening, but we were unable to locate them.”

Harbison said the reason firefighters were still having to pour water on the embers left behind by Sunday’s fire was because the roof of the old City Hall collapsed inside the building, making it impossible for firefighters to reach the fire and completely extinguish the blaze.

“It’s hard to put out a fire when you have a roof collapse like that, so we just have to keep pouring water on it until it finally burns itself out,” he added.