Local reaction to grocery store fire in Monette

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback

MONETTE, AR (KAIT) --The Farmers Market grocery store  in Monette was destroyed by fire late Monday night. Fire crews from the surrounding communities battled the massive blaze for hours.

In the light of day the center of the business district still smoldered and burned as an occasional flammable item flared up or a pressurized can exploded.

The front walls were knocked down by heavy equipment the night before to enable fire crews access to the front of the building.  Monette Fire Lieutenant Robert Chambers was one of many who spent the night outside the store.

"We used our deck equipment and water to knock the front down, and basically on the North end we did the same thing, soaked it down and kept hitting the hot spots."

During the evening, firefighters and equipment rolled in from Lake City, Caraway, Manila, and Leachville. As trucks emptied their tanks, local farmers supplied them with water from farm trucks. Despite the valiant efforts, Monette's only grocery store burned to the ground.

Residents say they lost more than just a store... they lost a piece of the town's history.

Wanda Lacey has lived in Monette all her life. She and a friend watched Monday as the building burned. She sighed and looked over at the smoldering rubble. "It was just a small town grocery. They had wonderful employees too."

As I walked around the perimeter of the building I could hear muted concussions of pressurized cans going off in the rubble. Occasionally a can of soda would explode with a shot like sound.

Around noon on Tuesday Lt. Chambers and his fellow Monette firefighters got the nod to roll up their hoses and go back to the station. Chambers said when clean up finally begins they probably will be back.

"We'll watch what they pull out, we'll put it out and then they can haul it off."

Randy Cropper is the Director of Store Operations for G&W Foods, the store's parent company based in Willow Springs, Missouri. He walked in and out of the entrance hole talking to his bosses and insurers.

Cropper told me they don't know why the fire started but they have a pretty good idea that it started near or in a closet in the North end of the store. Cropper said the Night Manager was alerted to the fire by a customer who told a checker.

Cropper, "The checker acknowledged smoke coming out of the end of the store. He (the manager) went to investigate. He found the fire was already spreading and attempted to call 911 but the phone was dead. While another employee called for help an attempt was made to control the fire with a hand extinguisher."

Cropper went on to say that it was quickly realized how serious the blaze was already and the store was quickly evacuated. There were no injuries to either store personnel and customers or to firefighters.

Being the only full grocery store in Monette there will be a strong economic impact on the town. But the 75-year-old building was a landmark in the town. A piece of history gone. Wanda Lacey remembers getting groceries and other goods from the store.

"A long time landmark that is gone that will never be again. I remember when I was a child my father had a blacksmith's shop behind the grocery. So I go back a long ways with what was until last night the Farmers Market."

One of the most common questions being asked is, "Is it going to re-open or When is it going to re-open?"  Company officials say, it's a little premature to make any kind of announcement.

Randy Cropper, G&W Foods, "It's been a good store and a very good community. We have to wait and see what our insurance adjustors say and go forward from there." The insurance people were due in to Monette on Wednesday.

G&W foods bought the store in 19-93.  Along with the store in Monette they also purchased and still operate, stores in Leachville, Manila, and Lake City.  All of these towns are within 20 minutes of Monette and where many shoppers may have to go unless they want to purchase groceries at a local variety store or a gas station.

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