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Accidental fire guts block of downtown Talladega

TALLADEGA (AP) — Investigators have ruled out arson in an early morning fire that gutted a block of historic buildings in downtown Talladega, including several businesses and the one-time family home of the 1930s actress Gertrude Michael.

The fire, which was reported shortly after 4 a.m. Thursday, also destroyed a vacant building a block off the courthouse square that once housed her father's business, Michael Supply Co., built between 1887 and 1894.

The Michael home was being used by the New Pathways Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counseling Center. Another building that burned housed York Wireless and a tanning salon next door owned by Mayor Brian York.

Talladega Police Capt. Ronny Jones said there was nothing at the fire scene that indicated foul play. Investigators suspect an electrical problem sparked the fire, which took about 12 hours to extinguish.

"While we're still trying to determine the exact cause, arson has absolutely been ruled out, along with any other sort of criminal activity," Jones told a news conference Thursday.

Acting Fire Chief Mark McKleroy said persistent dry weather and a morning breeze contributed to the rapid spread of the blaze.

"That's the problem with older buildings like this one," McKleroy said. "They're beautiful, and they help to bring merchants downtown, but that's why we've been stepping up our inspections lately and trying to bring everybody up to code."

Benny Turner, a carrier for The Daily Home, was walking past York Wireless when he spotted the fire and called the police dispatcher at 4:14 a.m.

Talladega firefighters arrived by 4:20 a.m., McKleroy said. Fire crews from surrounding cities also battled the blaze.

"I hate the loss of those buildings, but the good news is at the end of the day, everybody gets to go home and nobody got hurt," McKleroy said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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