Massive fire in downtown Athens was an accident

The fire destroyed one building and caused smoke damage in three others.

ATHENS, TENN. - UPDATE, Monday 5:00 a.m.: State fire marshals have now ruled a massive fire that tore through downtown Athens as accidental.

State officials said while there was nothing suspicious, they're still trying to figure out how the fire started.

UPDATE, Saturday, 6 p.m.: The Athens Fire Chief says a fire that burned several downtown buildings Saturday morning is now out, and no one was injured. 

"My wife and grandchildren and daughter live upstairs," said Emmett Johnson, owner of Johnson's Home Furnishings.

"They called and said the smoke was thick, and the smoke alarms were going off and the building adjacent to us was fully involved."

According to Athens Mayor Chuck Burris, 11 different fire departments assisted in putting the fire out. 

Burris said four different businesses were impacted by the fires.

"It's a historic town, an older town and all buildings are so close together," Burris said.

"It's a sad day for Athens."

The building where the fire began at 107 W. Washington Ave. has been ruled a total loss. That building was built in the 1870s and was in the process of being revitalized before the fire.

Owner Jim Logan called the loss "devastating."

"I am committed now, maybe it's the throws of the moment," Logan said.

"I am committed to rebuilding that building."

Firefighters said the age of the building was responsible for the spreading of the fire. Multiple businesses shared fire walls, allowing the flames to spread. 

Three other buildings were impacted by the fire: the commerce building, Greeks Bearing Gifts and Johnson's Home Furnishings.  

According to the fire department, the first two buildings both suffered smoke and water damage. Johnson's Home Furnishings only experienced smoke damage. 

Mayor Burris is hopeful the rebuilding process will begin very soon.

"We'll build it back. Athens is resilient people. It'll be back."

There is still no word on a cause for the fire.

UPDATE, Saturday, noon: The Athens Fire Chief says a fire that burned several downtown buildings Saturday morning is now out, and no one was injured. 

Responders do continue to monitor hot spots at this time.

According to Athens Mayor Chuck Burris, 11 different fire departments assisted in putting the fire out. 

Roads in the downtown area are still blocked off in spots. Traffic on portions of Highway 30 are being re-routed at this time, and officials are asking people to stay clear of the downtown area.

Mayor Burris said four different businesses were impacted by the fires. The building where the fire began at 107 W. Washington Ave. has been ruled a total loss. That building was built in the 1870s and was in the process of being revitalized before the fire. Owner Jim Logan called the loss "devastating."

Firefighters said the age of the building was responsible for the spreading of the fire. Multiple businesses shared fire walls, allowing the flames to spread. 

Three other buildings were impacted by the fire: the commerce building, Greeks Bearing Gifts and Johnson's Home Furnishings.  According to the fire department, the first two buildings both suffered smoke and water damage. Johnson's Home Furnishings only experienced smoke damage. 

Apartments above Johnson's were evacuated early this morning, preventing any injuries. 

There is no known cause for the fire yet. Crews are still investigating. 

PREVIOUS: McMinn County dispatch says multiple buildings caught fire in Athens, Tennessee, early Saturday morning.

The fire broke out near the McMinn County Courthouse in downtown Athens. No injuries have been reported. 

NBC affiliate WRCB in Chattanooga says the fire spread to three buildings. Several nearby buildings also suffered smoke damage. 

The buildings are located in the historic part of downtown Athens. It appears there was some construction and renovations happening in the area. 

WRCB reporter Caitlyn Chastain says many people were emotional watching firefighters extinguish the flames. She talked to one building's owner who says he is heartbroken, but is already planning to rebuild.

She says there was a family inside one of the buildings, but the alarms went off and they made it out safely. 

© 2017 WBIR.COM


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