Tuesday, July 05, 2011

TOP STORY >> Old theater burns in Beebe

Leader staff writer

An old movie theater on East Center Street in Beebe that was slated to become a shelter for the homeless burned late Sunday night.

Assistant Fire Chief Rick Jackson said Tuesday that the cause of the blaze was not known.

Actually, three days after firefighters extinguished the fire, the building was still too hot to start the investigation into the cause.

Bob Hall, pastor of First Baptist Church and chairman of the board of the Beebe Christian Outreach Center, said the fire will not stop the shelter from being built.

A casual observer would likely not realize that Beebe has homeless people, but Hall said homelessness is a problem for the area.

“We are requested to put people up in the motel frequently and there have been at times people living in the woods by the interstate,” he said.

Renovation of the building was under way last week. The old sloped flooring was being ripped out and the seats had been removed.

Now, the roof and back wall are gone, but the sides and front are intact. Perhaps a steel structure can be built within the old walls, Hall said.

The old theater was donated by the Hayes family, which owns many of the old downtown buildings.

The burned building is connected to another donated building that has been renovated as the food and clothing building for the outreach center.

That building was damaged by smoke and water but only minimally, Hall said.

The fire started at about 11:30 p.m. Assistant Fire Chief Rick Jackson said 30 firefighters from Beebe, Antioch and McRae worked until about 5:30 a.m. to put it out.

No damage estimate was available at press time.

Although work had started on the renovation, Hall said he was unsure when the pastors who make up the outreach board will get together to discuss what to do next.

“The summer is a difficult time to get the pastors together,” he said, adding that the start of school is only a little over a month away and that the work could start at that time.

The theater fire was the second in a vacant building in an eight-day period. On June 25, the fire department responded to 305 N. Fir St., where a house that had been condemned by the city was ablaze.

Jackson said the cause of that fire was undetermined.

The fire was extinguished before the house burned completely.

At one time, fire departments set abandoned houses on fire and then put them out as part of their training. But Jackson said the practice is now banned unless strict guidelines are followed. Getting a house ready to burn costs from $5,000 to $10,000 and includes removing shingles, all plastic pipe, vinyl floor covering and wiring as well as ensuring that no lead-based paint is present.

The fire department doesn’t have an investigator. Jackson said the police department is investigating both fires.