Investigators search for cause of Ag Museum fire - - Jackson, MS

Investigators search for cause of Ag Museum fire

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) - Thursday's blaze left charred and crumbled pieces of the Agriculture and Forestry Museum behind for investigators to sift through. The State Insurance Commissioner who also serves as the Fire Marshal, Mike Chaney, is just glad it wasn't any worse.
"To me, it's something that we've lost a treasure for the state," Chaney explained Friday.
Chaney knew it wouldn't be an easy task for crews to keep the fire contained.
"I said, oh Lord, just hope the wind doesn't destroy everything," added Chaney.
The investigation started as soon as the State Fire Marshal's office got word of the fire. They had investigators on the scene almost immediately. Some were also watching the live coverage to see how the fire was spreading from building to building.
The Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Andy Prosser said day break revealed a truer picture of the scope of the damage.
"We're lucky that the buildings that the general public knows about or still here and are still operational," Prosser explained.
The children's barnyard, a vet clinic, maintenance shop and storage sheds were a total loss. The main museum and "Small Town Mississippi" area were flame free. The school house, chapel and general store are now surrounded with caution tape because the rubble is just feet away.

The recovery will take time and money. Chaney and other officials are working closely with Agriculture Commissioner Cindy-Hyde Smith.
"She's going to need a lot of money on the deductible," said Chaney. "But it was insured through the Department of Finance and Administration with the state. I think it's about $250,000 to $500,000. So if people want to send money they can."

The Department of Agriculture and Commerce says it will likely request more money from the legislature, but they will accept donations in the meantime. You can call the main line at the Museum for that information. That number is 601-432-4500.

Skycopter spotted the blaze that just before 5 p.m. Thursday

Investigators feel like they got a good jump on it when it started.

"We had a second alarm that responded out here," said Chief Fire Investigator Greg Travis. "It was probably at least 50 firefighters who arrived on the scene to suppress this fire."

The fire started inside the children's barn, housing animals. Within minutes, the raging inferno had spread to another building, thanks in part to the weather.

"The wind changing direction has a lot of influence on the fire, which is causing it to change direction and move to another building, adjacent building," added Travis.

As it spread, flames got dangerously close to the Museum building. Officials evacuated as a precaution. A fire marshal said it also got close enough to burn the paint off the Museum building.

Then the trees caught fire, the leaves turning to a constant shower of burning embers flying all over the grounds of the museum.

Less than two hours after the fire started, crews managed to contain it, but not before two more buildings were destroyed: a 1920's-era vet infirmary and a maintenance shed.

Despite all the damage, though, only one employee was injured and all the large animals were safely evacuated.

"Right now, we're also trying to wait and see if the firefighters can get finished suppressing smaller fires here on the property, and I'm just thankful that no firefighters were injured," said Travis.

Governor Phil Bryant talked with Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith and told her any state asset that will be helpful as the recovery process begins will be at her disposal.

A few events have been canceled because of the circumstances. The Harvest Festival, which started Wednesday and was scheduled to run through Sunday at the museum, has been canceled and the Gingerbread Gift Market, a handmade-crafts sale and show scheduled for Thursday and Friday has also been canceled. 

Andy Prosser with the Department of Agriculture and Forestry says if anyone wants to make monetary donations or help with animal feed and hay to call 601-432-4500.

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