Lawrence County Library now open, weeks after massive fire destroys 127-year-old Walnut Ridge building

Updated: Jul. 24, 2020 at 5:00 PM CDT
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WALNUT RIDGE, Ark. (KAIT) - Despite heroic efforts, firefighters could not stop flames from consuming a building in July that had stood in downtown Walnut Ridge for more than 125 years.

On Friday, the nearby Lawrence County Library reopened.

The fire broke out shortly before 6:30 a.m. in a building located at the intersection of West Walnut and Northwest Front Streets, according to Mayor Charles Snapp.

Mayor Charles Snapp said the fire was located in a building just across the alley from the...
Mayor Charles Snapp said the fire was located in a building just across the alley from the Lawrence County Library.(KAIT-TV)

One side of the building is used for storage, he said, and the other side is where the Walnut Ridge Public Housing Agency is located. The building is across the alley from the Lawrence County Library.

Debi Hart, the director of the Housing Agency, says she’s still figuring out the next steps to take.

“[I’ve] been making some phone calls, we’re going to try to find a new computer, get our printer going,” Hart said. “We’re just going to work out of my living room until we locate a new office, you know, try to keep servicing our clients and that’s the goal, to not let it affect them.”

Fire Chief Frank Owens said the flames did spread to the library, but the damage was minimal. The exterior of the library near the destroyed building will need to be replaced, in addition to fixing water damage done to the roof.

Ashley Burris, the Director of the Library, says while she’s heartbroken for the loss of the building in front of the library, she’s proud of the community’s effort and is grateful the damage wasn’t worse.

“We were kind of relieved when we first got here that it wasn’t reaching our building at that time,” Burris said. “When they asked what I needed to get out, my heart just kind of sunk. I came in and grabbed my servers and headed back out the door to the bank next door...”

As for the next steps for the library, a crew from All-Clean has been working to clean the damage that is there.

“They started with the ceiling, working from the top down, and everything has to be wiped off and cleaned,” Burris said. “In a library with a lot of materials: books, magazines, DVDs, I mean, we’ve got all kinds of materials in here and that’s going to take quite a bit of time.”

And today...the cleaning begins. We will be closed for the next week and then reevaluate when we will be ready to reopen. We ask that everyone keep their materials at home during this time. Thank you!

Posted by Lawrence County Library on Friday, July 24, 2020

The library was closed as cleaning continued. Their internet and phone lines were knocked down as a result of the fire, so the majority of online resources, including eBooks and audiobooks, are currently inaccessible through the weekend at least.

Officials said on social media Thursday that Aug. 5 is the target date to reopen.

We are working our way to the front door- and getting the smoke out of the air. Wednesday, August 5th, is our target date to reopen.

Posted by Lawrence County Library on Thursday, July 30, 2020

The library opened Friday.

We're here for you...again.

Posted by Lawrence County Library on Friday, August 7, 2020

The election equipment was also moved to another location with the plan to check the equipment next week to make sure everything works.

Snapp said there are no details at this time on where or how the fire started, but the building was “fully engulfed” when firefighters arrived.

Crews from multiple agencies in Lawrence and Randolph counties assisted Walnut Ridge firefighters in battling the blaze.

Matthew Shaw provided drone video of the downtown Walnut Ridge fire.

Our weather cam showed massive flames shooting into the air. Meteorologist Bryan McCormick estimated the flames were 20-25′ high.

It took firefighters several hours to knock down the flames. By 11 a.m., crews had moved in with heavy equipment to demolish what was left.

All that is left of the building following Thursday morning's downtown fire.
All that is left of the building following Thursday morning's downtown fire.(KAIT-TV)

Local historians said the structure was built in 1893, following an earlier fire that destroyed the whole city block. At that time, the buildings were made of wood.

Originally, the building housed a hardware store with the upstairs used for various fraternal meetings.

A dress store set up shop there in the 1970′s.

Region 8 News will have more information as details become available.

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