Fire Investigators Set To Search For Clues

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The Old City's McClung Warehouse complex seems to be coming down brick by brick. Today the building is four days removed from a devastating fire that left it standing as little more than a shell. Tomorrow, firefighters believe they believe they will start to find some answers.

"It was a window of Knoxville," said Ernie Gross, who lost his business, "a place where I spent most of my time."

It was a window, a century-old window, shattered under the incinerating heat of more than seven hours worth of raging flames and wind. A fire that was worsened by cabinetry chemicals and who knows what else. In fact, it is that unknown element of what may have been in the fire that turned a quick demolition into a series of slow, surgical strikes.

"They're trying to knock it down piece by piece, from the inside out," according to Captain Danny Beeler, a Knoxville Fire investigator. "Some of the walls are five, six, seven foot thick and its solid brick, really good construction. It's been a task for the demolition crews to get it down."

The question fire investigators now ask themselves is one that confronts them on most investigations, was it arson or an accident? The answer could be under as many as eight feet of fallen brick and mortar that will likely take heavy machinery to get to the bottom of.

"Our scene is going to be there, regardless of how long it takes to knock down," Beeler said. "So the time frame is not as important to us as the the safety of the citizens."

And what about Mark Saroff who owned the McClung Complex.

"I've worked and dedicated almost 16 years of my life to preserving these historic structures," the owner said on Thursday, "it's just a very sad thing."

Since then Saroff has told us he has no time to talk. Investigators have questioned him about living in the building without a permit and how much pressure the city put on him to pay back taxes while fixing blight and fire code violations. Further, they want to know why did development deal after development deal never pan out.

For Ernie Gross, his friends are coming through for him. His woodworking business is set to resume soon, in several places.

"Fortunately, it was just a place where i made my living," he said before a crowded room, "it was not my life, and I can pretty much go on."

Excavation is next on the place for investigators.

"There's an area we want to get into," Captain Beeler said, "and the less debris going in there, the better it is going to be for us going in there.

Beeler's concern for the safety of his investigators is not unfounded. Four firefighters were when the building caught on fire. One of those, Jeff Kindrick, still remains in stable condition with burns and a fractured vertebra at the UT Medical Center.

Investigators are also looking for tips about the fire. If you have pictures, video, or any information at all about the fire they want to hear from you. The Knoxville Fire Department can be contacted at 865-637-1386.