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The old Butler Furniture store on Market Street in Athens burned to the ground Monday. The building was used for storage and was not occupied.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
The old Butler Furniture store on Market Street in Athens burned to the ground Monday. The building was used for storage and was not occupied. (See more photos in slide show here)

Going up in flames in Athens
Blaze destroys former Athens
furniture store

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — Billowing black clouds rising above the city attracted the curious, who gathered and snapped photos with their cell phones as the former Butler Furniture building burned down Monday.

"We saw dark smoke and ran out here to take pictures with our camera phone," said Tracy Lamar, an employee at Valley Ear Nose and Throat, located across the street.

The Butler building is on Market Street next to Athens-Limestone Hospital.

"Most of the people in this whole medical building were in shock and came outside to watch," Lamar said.

City Councilman Ronnie Marks drove by the building on his way to a council meeting and saw flames. He called the mayor's office at 3:45 p.m. and learned no one had yet notified the Fire Department.

"We're only a few blocks away, and flames were coming through the roof when we got here," said Assistant Fire Chief Danny Southard.

The cause of the blaze is under investigation, said Fire Chief Cliff Christopher and Athens police Lt. Floyd Johnson.

"We won't know anything (Monday night)," Christopher said. "Some have said they heard some kind of explosion."

The fire melted siding at Paul Dobbs Roofing to the west of the building. A car across the road had bubbled up paint.

"My wife works at the hospital's operating room and saw smoke and ran out to move her car away from the building," said spectator Jay Beasley. "I came back to watch what was going on."

Building owners Joe and Laurie Cannon said they stored furniture and old air conditioning units in the building.

Laurie Cannon did lose a family heirloom. A mahogany dining room set that was about 100 yeas old was stored at the building.

"It was given to me by my great aunt who lived to be 101 years old," she said.

Laurie Cannon said the Butler family built the building in the 1950s and operated a furniture store there for nearly 50 years. The Cannons bought it in about 1998.

Firefighters had to contend with the massive fire's heat as well as summer heat.

Two Athens Bible School students saw the smoke and decided to help. Isaac Munoz, 17, and his friend, Jordan Pugh, 16, went to the Liberty gas station on Market Street for water.

"They told us to grab all the water we could, and we hauled the bottles down here and handed them out to the firefighters," Isaac said.

Heather Powell, 18, a clerical worker for the Fire Department, and her sister, Hannah, 10, an Owens Elementary student, also passed out water as firefighters had to take breaks from battling the blaze.

County volunteer firefighters assisted Athens, and police closed the road as sightseers crowded into nearby parking lots to watch.

"That building has been there a long time," Beasley said as he watched the smoke rise. "I'm 47, and I know it's been here as long as I've been here."

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