UPDATE: Several businesses affected by massive fire in downtown - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Several businesses affected by massive fire in downtown Athens

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ATHENS, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Multiple fire companies from across the Tennessee Valley responded to a massive fire that burned a corner of downtown Athens, Saturday.  

 The fire broke out in a building on Washington Avenue. Firefighters worked for hours to put out the flames,  several businesses in the area sustained damages as well. 

Officials say about 5 or 6 businesses were affected by smoke and water damage and some owners tell Channel 3, their entire inventory is a total loss. 

"There's quite a bit of water damage," said Rob Preston, Pres. & CEO of Athens Area Chamber of Commerce. " We have a basement and the basement got completely flooded." 

It's much the same over at Johnson's Home Furnishings Inc. where every item in the store has now lost value. Owner, Emmette Johnson says the water pooled 5 feet into his basement.

"All that furniture down there was just floating," said Johnson. " It was coming through the front glass here and you can kind of see where it came through upstairs. It was going through the basement, it was going through a lot of different places and  just the smoke... we were smoke-filled." 

Johnson says a woman living upstairs heard the smoke alarms. She was able to get her mother and two six-year-olds out safely in the dark

"Yea we are blessed that fire didn't breach the wall and come through because it could have been catastrophic and nobody was hurt. On that angle you know things can be replaced, but people can't so we are really fortunate."

The Logan-Thompson law firm recently purchased  the historic building and was renovating it.  Jim Logan tells Channel 3 his plans to move into Athens haven't changed. 

"My hope, my prayer, my desire is going to be that we rebuild right there and we are going to try and replicate as best we can the historic building," said Logan. 

Community members say they're thankful for the quick response of firefighters. Right now they're just focusing on what can be saved. 

"It was a team effort and everybody acted quickly," said Preston. "I mean we had damage obviously but it could have been so much worse and we are so thankful that it wasn't." 

State Fire Marshals have ruled this fire to be accidental but the exact cause of the blaze is still under investigation.

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.


PREVIOUS STORY: An early morning fire shook the Athens community Saturday.

The fire broke out at a building on Washington Avenue in downtown.

"It's just sad," said Jessica Obringer as she watched firefighters battling the flames, "It really is."

"The past is being destroyed by fire," Jim Logan said.

Business owners and countless others looked on as a fire and smoke engulfed multiple buildings in downtown Athens.

"Black billowing smoke and by the time I got here you couldn't even see," Obringer recalled.

Many people watched while smoke billowed from windows and blanketed the street.

"It's terrible. It's just terrible," Logan said emotionally.

Aerial video courtesy J-Boggs Multimedia

The Athens city manager said the call came in around 6:00 Saturday morning.

The building that caught fire didn't have sprinklers.

A family staying at a building adjacent to the one that caught fire heard their smoke alarms and quickly exited.

Emmette Johnson's family called him as soon as they ran out.

"She said there was lots of smoke," Johnson recalled the conversation with his wife, "That when they came out they could hardly see to get out of the building."

One of the building owners where the fire started said they just purchased the property a few months ago and were restoring the historical building.

"We took this building back to the original floors, the original ceilings," Logan said as he looked at the burnt building, "It's one of the first buildings in McMinn County."

As people looked on, heartbroken at the sight, they all had one thing to say, "It breaks my heart, but we're going to do something. We've never been overcome. We'll come back," urged Logan.

"The only thing you can do is come back," echoed Obringer, "We rebuild it make it better than it was."

Many community restaurants donated water and food to first responders.

Power has been restored to many of the surrounding buildings in downtown.

The fire was contained to 3 buildings, according to the city manager, many more buildings have smoke damage.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.


PREVIOUS STORY: Multiple fire and emergency crews are working to contain a large building fire in downtown Athens.

The fire broke out early Saturday morning.

Officials at the scene tell Channel 3 that the fire spread to at least three nearby buildings.

Streets near the scene at Washington Ave. are shut down at this time.

Officials say no injuries have been reported in the fire. Stick with Channel 3 for the latest updates to this story.

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