Silhouetted by the lights from his fire truck, Asheville firefighter Jeremy Lloyd works to extinguish the last of a blaze that destroyed the Penland Auction House and damaged other buildings in the River Arts District Friday night. (Photo by Max Cooper)
The cause of the structure fire that started in the River Arts District late April 5 evening remains as opaque as the smoke that billowed from it. The flames overtook two buildings at the future New Belgium site on Craven Street. The buildings had been set for demolition to make way for the brewery construction.
“I would say that it’s very suspicious. Two buildings, the same location [and] a significant distance apart were on fire at the same time,” said Asheville Fire Department Battalion Chief Carlo Marzello. When asked whether arson could be responsible for the fire, Marzello told Xpress, “The cause is under investigation with our fire marshal, so he’ll make that determination.” He expects AFD will release further details within a few days. No injuries were reported.
On the scene, Marzello states that AFD found no sign of forced entry onto the property. “The place is fenced in, [and is surrounded by a] pretty high fence.”
The fire department received a call about the fire around 10:30 p.m. Friday night. By the time firefighters arrived on the scene minutes later, Marzello reported that one building was “fully involved and that there was another structure about 200 yards over that was on fire as well.”
Former Penland Auction House building owner Tommy Tuten stopped by to watch AFD’s efforts to subdue the flames after a friend called to tell him about the fire.
“I hate to see this happen,” he told Xpress. “It’s just weird.”
The New Belgium fire is the second River Arts District blaze this week. On Tuesday, April 2, the Cotton Mill building at 159 Riverside Dr. caught fire about 4 a.m. AFD has yet to release details about that incident.
“All the old buildings around here catch on fire,” Marzello says.“But some abandoned buildings sit there for years and never catch on fire. Sometimes an abandoned building will catch on fire because homeless people are living in it. … It’s all speculation at this time,” Marzello says.
This article will be updated as more information becomes available
***UPDATE: Saturday, April 6 at 3 p.m.: The Asheville Fire Department determined that the fires were intentionally set. They are currently seeking the community’s help for information related to these arsons, along with two other fires that AFD determined were also intentionally set.***
Footage from the scene of the fire taken by Caitlin Byrd:
The scene when Xpress reporters arrived at the fire:
Asheville firefighter Jeremy Lloyd works to extinguish the flames: