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ATF, Athens, state to probe Butler blaze

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — The black singed remains of the old Butler building still were holding heat Tuesday like a giant pile of charcoal briquettes, and that hindered federal, state and local investigators.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and state fire marshal have joined the Athens Fire and Athens Police departments' investigation.

"It likely will be Thursday before we can get in there and really take a look at what caused this because it still has hot spots," Athens Fire Chief Cliff Christopher said. "Our guys stayed out there with it all (Monday) night to keep it from spreading."

The two-story structure was 26,000 square feet, Christopher said.

An agent with ATF was on the scene Tuesday.

No one is saying it could be arson, but one of ATF's duties is to investigate acts of arson.

Some witnesses said they heard an explosion-type sound when the fire erupted at about 3:45 p.m. Monday.


Christopher said there is no indication there was anything inside the building but old furniture, lumber and metal.

Dr. Joe Cannon and his wife, Laurie, used the building on West Market Street for storage. The building was next to Athens-Limestone Hospital.

They said the building had furniture and old air conditioning units. It also had an antique dining room set that Laurie Cannon said was 100 years old and was given to her by a great aunt.

"All indications are that the fire started in the northeast corner," the fire chief said. "The building had old wood floors that used to be oiled. There was a lot of wood material inside, so it's not surprising it burned so fast."

Old business

Artie Butler said his grandfather and father started the business at that site.

According to tax records, the business dates back to at least 1950.

"It was an old barn and they had auctions there," Butler said.

They kept adding to the building and turned it into a furniture store.

Butler said it operated there until 1999, when Butler's Home Furnishings moved to U.S. 72.

He said the building sold to the Cannons in 2001 or 2002.

Medical emergency

During the blaze, Athens Fire Prevention Chief Jerry Hardaway went to the emergency room.

Christopher said Hardaway is taking blood thinners and succumbed to the heat. Hardaway was back at work Tuesday.

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