published Sunday, November 27th, 2011

Fire that destroyed Dalton's Peacock Alley shops not arson

A crew works on Tuesday to clean out debris inside the Peacock Alley building. Nearly six weeks after a fire destroyed the historic building in downtown Dalton, Ga., cleanup is nearly completed.
A crew works on Tuesday to clean out debris inside the Peacock Alley building. Nearly six weeks after a fire destroyed the historic building in downtown Dalton, Ga., cleanup is nearly completed.
Photo by Mariann Martin.
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    Dalton Fire Department Chief Bruce Satterfield
    Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson

DALTON, Ga. -- Investigators may never determine exactly what started the fire that destroyed Dalton's historic Peacock Alley nearly six weeks ago, according to Dalton Fire Chief Bruce Satterfield.

The fire started between the ceiling and the roof near the back of the building, he said, but he would not speculate on the cause.

"I think once all the investigators realized this fire started in a space where no one has been and there was no access, and everyone agreed it was a nonincendiary fire, all the investigators agreed it was not tenable to pursue the exact cause," Satterfield said. "We may change it if more information comes in, but at this point it is undetermined."

None of the lights or other electrical equipment in the building below the ceiling showed signs of malfunction, said Satterfield.

He said investigators took the lights and a ceiling fan in the bathroom as evidence, but they do not plan to test those items unless someone raises additional questions.

The fire, which started in the early morning of Oct. 9, destroyed eight or nine small businesses inside one building and caused heavy damage to several adjacent businesses on South Hamilton Street.

Smoke was seeping out of the building when firefighters arrived, but fire soon broke through the roof and threatened to engulf the entire block. The day after the fire, Satterfield said low water pressure in nearby fire hydrants hampered firefighters' efforts.

But Dalton Utilities President Don Cope has said the issue was not water pressure, but having too many pumper trucks using one water line.

This week, Satterfield said the fire department plans to meet with the utility company to discuss issues related to the fire. The fire department has tested water flows and water pressure in the weeks since the fire, Satterfield said.

"Whether we caused it or the utility or a combination of both, we are trying to find out why we had those issues," Satterfield said.

On a recent afternoon, a crew worked to clear debris out of the Peacock Alley Antique Gallery and Specialty Shops, hauling load after load of charred lumber and melted plastic to outside bins.

The north lane of Hamilton Street remains closed while the cleanup continues.

Peacock Alley owner John Davis has promised he will rebuild, but said it will take some time to decide exactly what shape the reconstruction will take. The historic facade can be saved, building inspectors have said, but everything else will need to be rebuilt.

Whitecotton Leather Co., one of the adjacent businesses, has reopened across the street for now. Dozens of leather jackets, belts and holsters are crowded into the smaller rented space, while the rest of the inventory is stored in a warehouse, owner Paul Coffey said.

The business was closed for about three weeks until he was able to move across the street, Coffey said. He is still sorting through items to check for damage.

Crews have begun repair work on his old building, which sustained smoke and water damage. They still need to repair the roof, replace the ceiling and put in a new floor. Coffey said he hopes to be back in the restored building in two to three months.

"It's been an experience, I'll tell you," Coffey said. "We still don't know what our total losses are."

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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