Dunleith’s fire still under investigation, likely accidental

Published 10:46 am Saturday, June 9, 2007

NATCHEZ — A cause for the fire at historic Dunleith Plantation is still under investigation.

A spokesperson for the State Fire Marshal’s Office said investigators are leaning toward determining the fire was an accident.

An official report should be out next week, officials said.

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The Natchez Fire Department responded to a 3:30 a.m. call May 24 to find one of Dunleith’s 150-year-old outbuildings engulfed in flames.

The building was originally used to house poultry, and was being used for the gift shop and offices at the time of the fire.

The roof and all of the burn damage have been removed from the building, Dunleith General Manager John Holyoak said.

Though they are eager to get the building back in use, management is moving cautiously, Holyoak said.

“We’re trying to preserve the details and ensure the building is stable so we’re able to progress in a safe manner and salvage as much as possible,” he said.

Part of the problem is the heat and the the amount of water dumped on it to extinguish the fire compromised the integrity of the building to a certain point, he said.

A structural engineer and a local architect familiar with historic buildings, as well as a member of the preservation society have all been consulted for the rebuilding project, Holyoak said.

“We’re wanting to do everything in our power to save what we can,” he said.

News of the fire initially brought a boost of concerned community members and regular customers to see the fire damage, but that has largely died down, Holyoak said.

“We had a wedding the weekend it burned, and that went off without a hitch,” he said.

Dunleith offices are currently being run out of a 52-by-12 foot trailer, Holyoak said.

All systems are up to speed at 100 percent business capacity except for the gift shop, he said.

“We’re taking it one day at a time to restore the building to its full grandeur,” he said.

“We’re very optimistic about the building coming up out of the ashes.”