Mayor: Courtroom 'total loss' after Loudon Co. Courthouse fire

LOUDON COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- After a devastating fire burned one of the oldest courthouses in Tennessee Tuesday, Loudon County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said the second floor, including the courtroom, is a total loss.

The first floor however, the mayor said, did not sustain significant damage and the current court records held on that floor seem to be in good condition. The condition of the basement, and the records held there, are still not known at this time.

A structural engineer will assess the building Monday.

Officials say all streets in Loudon are back open and officers will be guarding the property until seven foot chain link fences can be installed around the area.

Investigators said the fire began at around 6:30 p.m. on April 23.

By around 10:30 p.m., firefighters were able to enter the building after hours of fighting the flames; however, hot spots remained.

At around 10:20 p.m., the roof of the courthouse appeared to partially collapse. The tower section remained standing, but the back half of the roof appeared to cave in, according to WVLT News crews.

Fire crews worked throughout the night, taking shifts battling the blaze. Some even slept on the lawn when the fire was finally out. The courtroom was entirely destroyed, and the courthouse's basement has several feet of standing water.

Loudon police said the metal roof on courthouse made it more difficult to extinguish the fire because it made it more difficult to get water on to the flames. Several side streets in the area around the courthouse will remain closed Wednesday, but Highway 11 is now reopen.

Loudon County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said the courthouse could be a total loss, and roads in the area would likely remain closed through Wednesday, April 24. The mayor said early reports indicated the fire may have started from a light switch in one of the courthouse rooms; however, further investigation was underway to confirm an exact cause.

Bradshaw said his goal was to save as much as he can, "There's a lot of history in this building."

The sheriff's office confirmed the courthouse is one of the oldest in the state of Tennessee, built in 1872.

Flames could be seen shooting from the roof, and heavy smoke from the fire created a fog around the courthouse and the streets around it. The sheriff's office set up a perimeter and asked that residents keep away.

WVLT News observed about 60 to 70 firefighters in the area taking shifts while they attempt to extinguish the flames.Traffic was backing as spectators gathered to watch or take pictures of the scene.

There were at least three water trucks on scene from different agencies trying to control the fire.

The sheriff's office, Lenoir City Police Department, firefighters from Greenback, Loudon, Philidelphia, and Lenoir City helped battle the blaze. State fire inspectors were on scene as well.

Previously, it was thought that a good portion of the historic documents, records, and artifacts housed inside the courthouse had been removed within the previous few months by a historian working to catalog them; however, that was found not to be the case. Newer records were preserved on a server, and court cases are expected to resume on Monday.

Major General John Cardwell, who was spearheading a movement to preserve and protect the county's archives, said 12-15 rooms in the courthouse stored records dating back to the 1870's. Cardwell said many of the county records were stored in the basement, which may have severe water damage after county officials sealed the drains.

Cardwell added Loudon County is the only county in East Tennessee that does not have an archive.

Also saved from the building was an American flag.