DECATUR, Texas — An overnight fire destroyed a longstanding Wise County museum and landmark despite efforts to extinguish the blaze.
The Decatur Fire Department told WFAA units responded to a report of a structure fire at approximately 1 a.m. Saturday in the 1600 block of South Trinity Street. When crews arrived at the scene, they reported a three-story timber building – the Wise County Heritage Museum – had smoke coming from one side.
After just 30 minutes of battling the fire, the aggressive change in fire and smoke forced numerous fire crews from the second floor to the first then immediately out the front door.
Decatur fire said heavy fire and smoke conditions ravaged the historical stone building for the next two hours with around 50 firefighters working to put out the flames.
“It’s quite the morning for the fire chief," an emotional Deroy Bennett, the fire chief, said. “To be the first chief officer on the scene running the command, it’s been a long night.”
The museum, which was built and first occupied in the spring of 1893, was destroyed after 130 years.
Bennett said they fire appeared to have started on the second or third floor, and they don't believe it was unintentional, though the cause is still unknown.
"In shock, you know, it’s just a shock," Sue Tackel, an archivist for the museum, said. “A lot of people came just to see the building. It’s a wonderful old building.”
The building initial housed an old college before becoming the museum and home to more than 6,000 books along with works of art.
“Some of them irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind books," Tackel said.
Doug Munson and his wife Suzette donated her father’s old peanut farming equipment when he passed a decade ago.
“The loss is greater than anything you can imagine," Doug Munson said. “There’s a lot of stuff gone now that you’ll never see again. This is a real heartbreaker, but we know that we’re going to be back.”
The most valuable collection was artifacts from the Lost Battalion, a group of soldiers, mostly from North Texas, held captive in Japan during World War II for three and a half years.
“All I can think about is what we’ve lost within the building as well as the building. There’s so many artifacts that have been donated from people all over the county," Kerry Clower, the Wise County Historical Society president, said. “it had never entered into our plans that something like this could happen. We’re hoping to maybe rebuild something.”
No one was in the building at the time of the fire and there were no injuries reported by first responders.
“It was a beloved part of our community and it’s just going to take a lot of work to bring that back to us," Clower said.
According to Decatur fire, nearby City of Decatur Police and Development Services buildings sustained smoke and odor damage.
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