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Chatham County courthouse will continue to smolder for a few days

Posted Friday, March 26, 2010

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Pittsboro, NC - As of this morning, the fire at the Chatham County Historic Courthouse is fairly well under control, but some of the building will continue to smolder for a few days. The clock tower and the roof collapsed around 1:30 am, with most of it resting on the first and second floors.

According to Pittsboro Fire Chief Darryl Griffin, the building is not safe for firefighters or anyone else to enter it for any purposes. “The area around the courthouse has restricted access because the fire continues to burn inside and other parts of the building could potentially collapse.”

The clock tower and the roof collapsed around 1:30 am Friday morning.

“It will be at least a day before emergency personnel can enter, but it could be longer,” said Griffin.

County Manager Charlie Horne said that structural engineers have been called in to assess the building later today and that a chainlink fence will be constructed as soon as possible in a safe zone around the courthouse.

Horne said that it is too early to know if the remaining structure can be saved. “We have to get engineering reports and provide that information to the Board of Commissioners before we will know the answer to that question. Certainly, we very much want to save as much of the building as possible.”

Fire Marshal Thomas Bender said that it also is too soon to speculate on a cause or exact origin of the fire. “We are thankful that the SBI showed up early last evening and we will be working with them on the investigation.”

Bender said that investigatory work is already underway outside the building, but that getting into the building will be critical. “Since we can’t do that yet, we are missing key pieces of information. We expect this to take some time, so I would not expect a report for a while.”

The traffic circle and other areas near the courthouse will be closed for the next few days, said Pittsboro Police Chief David Collins. “However, we are working with DOT to set up marked detour routes. Businesses in downtown will be able to stay open, but traffic routes will be more challenging until the area is secured.”

Commissioner Chair Sally Kost said that “we are so proud of how various agencies in the county and the towns pulled together and worked so hard through the night to try to save the courthouse. This is an emotional event for many of us because the courthouse is so beloved and has such historical significance.”

Kost added that many of the firefighters who responded last night are volunteers. “They do this work because they care about their community and know the work is important. It was impressive to see all of the departments pull together the way that they did.”

According to Kost, Governor Perdue has called to pledge the full support of state agencies. She added that Congressman David Price and Congressman Bob Etheridge have pledged their support to help the community in any way that they can.

She said that the county is still in recovery mode and that it is too soon to focus on the rebuilding efforts and the costs. “We will try to salvage as much as possible, especially any historical artifacts.”

Until emergency workers can enter the building, Horne said that “we can’t confirm the status of all items in the lower part of the building, such as computers or items in the Chatham County Historical Museum, which is located in the courthouse.”

Chatham County also is working with the Administrative Office of the Courts and local court officials to secure temporary space for court proceedings and offices for court officials. Horne said, “This is going to involve a lot of work by many people to make sure that we can get the court system up and running as soon as possible.”

Several fire departments brought water pump trucks to supplement the water supply to fight the fire. The following fire departments inside Chatham County assisted the Pittsboro Fire Department in battling fire: Siler City, North Chatham, Moncure, West Sanford, Silk Hope, Goldston, Deep River and Parkwood.

Last evening, John Poteat with Pittsboro Public Utilities said that the town’s water supply was not depleted and that residents should not have been impacted by the event.

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