Funeral home fire leaves smoke damage

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 4, 2005

[1/1/05] Officials say it’s too early to call it arson but they are investigating a Friday afternoon fire in the basement of W.H. Jefferson Funeral Home.

The fire is the fourth unexplained blaze in two weeks at sites all less than a mile from each other in downtown.

Assistant Fire Chief Henry Williams said an official ruling will be made in a couple of days.

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The downtown business, located at 800 Monroe St., sustained mild smoke damage. No one was injured.

Owner James Jefferson said he was watching television at 5 p.m. upstairs in the funeral home’s office when he heard an explosion.

“It was louder than a firecracker,” Jefferson said.

He went into the chapel and saw smoke coming out of the door to the basement.

“I opened the door and smoke rolled out and hit me,” Jefferson said. He called the fire department, told the other two employees in the building to get out, then went back to the door to investigate.

Jefferson saw that a pile of AstroTurf, tents and folding chair was on fire.

Jefferson also noticed that the garage door to the basement, which had been left open, was closed. He pressed the button to open the door, but it didn’t work.

“There’s nothing combustible over there (in the pile). Nothing that could spontaneously combust,” Jefferson said. Also, he noted, the pile was packed next to cinder block wall with no wiring or lighting fixtures near it.

In addition to light smoke damage, a light fixture melted, Williams said.

A Dec. 18 fire damaged an exterior area of the McRaven tour home, 1445 Harrison St., one of the city’s oldest structures. A Dec. 20 fire destroyed Rusty’s Riverfront Grill, 615 Crawford St., a downtown restaurant open for about three years. A Dec. 27 blaze destroyed an unoccupied home at 1248 Magnolia St. The owner, Norman Price, was renovating the home, but not living there.

Fire Chief Keith Rogers previously said that at least two suspects have been identified in the fire at Rusty’s and both have been interviewed. Vicksburg police investigators are also working on the case.

Second degree arson, or the burning of any building other than a school or church, is a felony and can result in up to 10 years in prison.

Repairs have already begun on McRaven. Rusty Larsen, owner of Rusty’s, said he will reopen in January at 901 Washington St.