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After the fire: Owners review damage caused by Sunday morning blaze

 

NATCHEZ — Owners of the historic Prentiss Club building got their first look at the building Tuesday since a Sunday morning fire heavily damaged the structure.

“I’m glad no one was here to see me,” said Melinda Kent of her reaction to her first site of the burned out building.

Melinda and her husband, Fred, bought the building in June and had been working to convert the space in to a museum and event venue. The work was mostly complete, and they had planned to open the space to the public next week.

The couple was out of town when the fire occurred.

Natchez Acting Fire Chief Ventris Green said Tuesday said the fire department had wrapped up its investigation and determined the fire had started on the southwest corner of the first floor.

“The state fire marshal along with Natchez fire marshal made determination it was not any type of arson, and it was electrical,” Green said of the cause of the fire.

Melinda said she and Fred had an insurance inspector on the scene.

“That is not confirmed,” she said of the fire marshal’s ruling and that the inspector was planning to speak to the fire chief about the determination.

Green said the Natchez Fire Department’s portion of the investigation is wrapped up.

“We will be sending our information to the owners,” Green said. “I think our guys went over and beyond the call of duty.”

Green said one firefighter suffered a minor injury after falling from the first floor to the basement Monday. He was treated at Merit Health, Green said.

“The structure seems to be stable. . . ” Green said.

Melinda said she and Fred also had a structural engineer from New Orleans on site Tuesday and contractor that is going to begin clean up today. Melinda was noncommittal Tuesday on the prospects of rebuilding.

“I don’t know how it would be possible unless you have $3 or $4 million,” Melinda said. “At this point in time it is just so daunting. We are just at the beginning stages. The brick walls are still standing but there is no roof.”

Melinda said they had been removing salvageable antiques, including a bed from the 1800s (that had initially been erroneously reported as from the 1600s) from the bridal suite, several gasoliers and other furniture.

Melinda said they were trying to remove the valuables ahead of Tropical Storm Gordon that is expected to arrive in Natchez on Wednesday afternoon.

Melinda said contractors have advised a tarp cannot be attached to the roof of the Prentiss Club building because no support beams exist.

“The minute the wind and the rain come the tarp will be gone,” Melinda said.

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