Blaze damages theater; electrical works blamed|[6/27/06]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Fire believed to have started in wiring spread through Parkside Playhouse Monday afternoon, badly damaging the community theater and injuring a firefighter.

&#8220I smelled smoke in the green room,” said Jodie Johnson, one of about three people in the building at Iowa and Confederate avenues who called firefighters at 4:25 p.m. &#8220I shut the door and left.”

Vicksburg firefighters attacked the blaze from outside and by going in. Capt. Harold Gaines was among the first to enter and was burned on one ear and part of his face, Chief Keith Rogers said.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

&#8220We have a hood that seals up, but his must’ve pushed back,” Rogers said. Gaines was treated and released, said Amanda Hebert of River Region Medical Center, where Gaines was taken.

Three volunteers were inside the concrete block building counting T-shirts following a children’s theater workshop held over the weekend.

As news of the flames spread, members of the Vicksburg Theatre Guild, the nonprofit organization that owns the structure, drove to the scene. Among them was director of building and grounds Garrett Wallace who said a course of action would be charted as soon as the extent of damage could be determined. The VTG had fire insurance on the building, he added.

The group of 300 or more members stages several plays a year, including annual seasons of &#8220Gold in the Hills,” which, according to VTG history, generated enough money for the group to buy Cedar Grove Mansion in the 1940s. Selling that building about 30 years ago provided seed money to build Parkside Playhouse, the VTG’s first home specifically built for theatrical productions.

The playhouse is a metal structure with a metal frame, Wallace said. Large parts of its roof are also metal but other parts are shingles on wood, he added.

One of the shingle-roof sections, on the north side of the building, was broken through by flames during the firefight.

Rogers said this morning that although it hasn’t been made official, it appeared a short or other wiring failure may have been the trigger.

&#8220From an outside view it probably happened in the electrical room,” Wallace said. None of the volunteers were in that room, which contains the theater’s lighting controls, when the fire started.

Joel Stroud, who was in the building, said Johnson had gone to try on a T-shirt from the workshop, Fairy Tale Theatre, when she smelled smoke.

&#8220I gathered up all the T-shirts,” Stroud said. &#8220When I was leaving, smoke started coming down the hall.”

Wallace said he left the theater about 9 only to get a second call that fire crews had returned. Police and fire personnel were making hourly checks.

&#8220There was fire hidden in the building,” he said. &#8220There were no flames – just a lot of smoke. And, the fire department had pulled down more of the roof material.”

Fire investigators expected to determine the actual cause of the fire after an investigation this morning.