'Human action' cited in downtown Gladewater blaze

Published on Tuesday, 10 January 2017 18:22 - Written by JACQUE HILBURN-SIMMONS, jasimmons@tylerpaper.com

GLADEWATER - Human actions appear to blame for a late night blaze that destroyed two historic buildings last week in downtown Gladewater, federal officials said Tuesday.

The National Response Team, a specialized investigative unit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, wrapped up on-site operations without saying definitely what factors may have contributed to the Jan. 4 fire that destroyed a vacant structure at 109 N. Main St. and damaged another.

The affected city block is home to several businesses, including Tony’s Old South Café, formerly known as The Fork, which sustained heavy fire damage.

“All of the scene information has been gathered and analysis of the information will continue,” said ATF Dallas Field Division’s Assistant Special Agent in Charge Vincent Pallozzi in a written statement. “While we have found that the fire was caused by human action, it is undetermined at this time if the fire was accidental or intentional.”

About 15 special agents and other experts with the National Response Team were activated at the request of the Gregg County Fire Marshal’s Office, according to that statement.

ATF Acting Public Information Officer Scott Ragsdale said Tuesday investigators spent the weekend gathering evidence for processing and further analysis.

“The investigation is still open,” Ragsdale said by phone. “Our ATF National Response Team has wrapped up and no longer has anyone on site.”

Gregg County authorities will continue to follow leads that could help identify the person or persons who may have played a role in the incident.

Gladewater City Manager Theo Melancon said Friday the town plans to seek assistance from the National Historic Trust to see if the front facades of the buildings can be saved.

One is believed to be a 1940s-era structure while the other, which housed the café, dates back to 1933.

The city manager said local funds could possibly be an option to preserving the facades, if the town is unable to obtain a grant and there is enough support for such a measure.

“Our goal as a city and community is to keep this a vibrant area,” he said earlier.

Anyone with information related to the fire should contact the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office at 903-236-8400 or Gregg County Crime Stoppers at 903-236-7867.

People can also submit a tip through ATF’s new “reportit” app available at reportit.com.

Twitter: @TMT_Jacque