(WBIR - Knoxville) Knoxville's mayor says structural engineers will begin examining the fire-damaged McClung Warehouse building on Tuesday to determine if it can be saved or should be scrapped.
Saturday morning a large fire completely destroyed one of the two remaining buildings at the historic site. The fate of the sole building that remains standing is uncertain until structural engineers can evaluate it. The intense heat from the fire next door warped large steel beams into the twisted shape of Twizzlers.
Knoxville mayor Madeline Rogero got her first look at the fire-damaged site on Monday. Rogero was overseas in Turkey when flames ripped through the warehouse.
"This was the first chance I had to see what happened up close," said Rogero. "We are now more than ever committed to redeveloping this property as best it can be done."
The city purchased the McClung Warehouse property late last year with hopes of redeveloping the two standing buildings that survived a massive fire in 2007. A private developer announced redevelopment plans more than a decade ago, but never followed through. In 2006, the city contemplated use of eminent domain to seize the historic property that then consisted of five buildings. The February 2007 fire demolished three of the multistory buildings.
The private owner of the site eventually filed for bankruptcy, which finally opened the door for the city to acquire the site in 2013. The city placed razor wire and other barriers around the dilapidated buildings in an attempt to keep vagrants out. Yet, McClung has continued to attract the homeless and subsequent fires.
"Regardless of what you do, short of building a moat around this place, they're going to defeat whatever you do," said Knoxville fire marshall Danny Beeler. "There is no doubt in our mind that human involvement was there. Whether it was accidental or on purpose, we don't know."
Beeler said while investigators are certain "human activity" played a role in the fire, he did not want to jump to conclusions that the people involved were homeless. He said investigators are reviewing the in-car camera of the Knoxville police officer who first reported the fire in search of any footage that may show someone leaving the building.
While the city awaits engineers to determine whether the site should be rehabilitated or demolished, Rogero said development of some kind is in the property's future.
"This is heartbreaking to lose this one building. Hopefully, we will keep the other one. But if not, we'll do what we have to do and move ahead," said Rogero.