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Main Street Fire 20 Year Anniversary

04/20/2021

Main Street FireOn April 20, 2001 at 9:41 p.m., exactly 20 years ago today, the call came in that Helping Hand Mission located at 217 E. Main St. had caught fire.

“I remember seeing the red glow coming from Main Street as I drove into Town that night.” Chief Lee Barbee said.

Fire Marshall Tony Atkinson echoed that memory, “I remember that glow. I was sitting at home watching TV when the radio traffic picked up. Driving into Town, all you could see was the red glow coming from Main Street.”

The ‘Main Street Fire’ as it has been called over the years, was one of the biggest in the modern history of Clayton.

One hundred firefighters from eight different departments responded with 10 engines and two ladder trucks.

“The radio traffic that night was abundant. I remember calling in mutual aid from neighboring departments. A ladder truck from Smithfield was flowing water within 18 minutes from the time I called for help- that is remarkably fast.” Barbee said.

“There were two LP gas tanks at the rear of the building. By the time I got there they were shooting 30-foot flames straight up into the air.” Atkinson recalled.

Firefighters are taught to ‘set up to protect the block’; to do everything they can to contain the fire and stop it from spreading into neighboring buildings, and that night that is what they did. The two neighboring businesses, Elmore Furniture and Carroll’s TV and Appliance, were largely spared. Each only received minor damage.

“The firemen did a great job. They came in with tarps and covered furniture and moved things away from the wall.” William Elmore, owner of Elmore Furniture said at the time of the fire.

Wade Carroll, owner of Carroll’s TV and appliance, said he was amazed at how little damage there was. “There’s very little smoke or water damage. Hardly any water got in there. That surprised me.”

The Town Manager at the time, Steve Biggs, came Downtown to brief the media that night. There were television crews from all the local stations.

Many local residents and Downtown business owners saw the fire on the 11 p.m. newscast and came into Town to watch. Firefighters were able to go into many businesses to recover documents and computers, just in case the fire did spread. It was 3 a.m. before the fire was under control.

The Clayton Police Department, SBI, ATF, and the county Fire Marshall Office spent many months investigating the fire. It started on the back porch where an old sofa, clothing, and other items were piled up. However, the exact cause was never determined.

At the time of the fire, Helping Hand Mission had been in that building for 10 years. The Helping Hand Mission is an organization that assist families in need with food, clothing, furniture, and shelter. While they still operate in the Raleigh area, they never did rebuild in Clayton. The front brick wall of the building was saved. However, the back wall had to be taken down and was rebuilt. The building made a remarkable comeback and is the current home of Brick & Mortar.

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