State Fire Marshal inspects Natchez fire scene

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 10, 2009

NATCHEZ — Exactly what caused Thursday’s Main Street fire is still a mystery.

But Deputy State Fire Marshal Scott Barnes said there was no evidence at the scene that indicated arson.

“That was our main focus, to find intent,” Barnes said.

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In large fires, like Thursday’s, it’s often difficult to find a source of the fire if it wasn’t intentionally set, Barnes said.

And while the source of the fire couldn’t be found, there was no shortage of cleaning to be done Friday.

The second floor of attorney Bruce Kuehnle’s Main Street office was destroyed by fire when the blaze that began next door spread to his roof.

Inside his office most of the first floor was covered in water and soot.

“It’s a mess,” Kuehnle said as work crews hauled undamaged file cabinets out the front door.

Kuehnle, the Natchez-Adams School Board’s attorney, said the school’s files, and others, were saved due to the help of brave volunteers.

As Kuehnle’s roof burned, groups of volunteers ran in and out of the office with armloads of anything they could carry.

“If it weren’t for them it could have been a lot worse,” he said. “They were amazing.”

And next door at attorney Kent Hudson’s office — it was much worse.

The fire started at Hudson’s office and completely destroyed the building’s interior.

On Friday morning, both Hudson and Kuehnle were looking for new office space.

Kuehnle owned the building his office was in and said it was too soon to have any restorations plans.

“Right now I just don’t know,” he said.

Hudson’s office is owned by Dr. Randy and Ann Tillman.

The Tillmans have owned the building for 20 years.

For 15 of those years Hudson has been their tenant.

The space above Hudson’s office is an apartment occasionally used by the Tillman’s daughter and her husband.

“I’m just glad they weren’t home,” Ann Tillman said. “And we’re so glad no one was hurt.”

While no one was seriously hurt, two other buildings were damaged in the fire.

Ricci Oil Co., to the right of Hudson’s office, and Dimple’s Lounge to the left of Kuehnle’s office, both sustained smoke, water and heat damage, Barnes said.

Armando Ricci said he felt fortunate his business wasn’t caught up in the fire.

“I thought we were going to lose it,” Ricci said. “We were lucky, very lucky.”

Aside from legal documents and office furniture, Natchez also lost a little of its history on Thursday.

Historic Natchez Foundation’s Director of Programs Mimi Miller said the Tillman’s building was built in 1886, and Kuehnle’s building was built in 1892.

Over the years the buildings have served a variety of uses including a jewelry store and a general store.