By Johnny Jackson
Gene Rose looked at the charred, twisted frame of what used to be the Stockbridge Goodwill Store. He may have lost his business, he said, but things could have been worse.
“It's beyond an inconvenience,” Rose said. “I've probably lost my business. (But) I'm not going to worry about it. I have my life and my family. This makes you see what's right in the world and what's wrong. It helps you realize what's important in a hurry.”
He and his wife own Rose's Vacuum Center which still stands at the side of the devastated shopping center located at 5627 N. Henry Road, between highways 138 and 42. He stood outside his business early Friday morning wondering if his business too had much smoke and water damage from the blaze he rushed to watch a few hours the night before.
The three-alarm blaze that sent Rose to humble realities about the world started shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday. He said people next door said they smelled smoke about that time, just before some walked out of the building and saw flames already leaping from the roof of the store behind them.
The Henry County Fire Department received the call around 7:20 p.m., before which time witnesses say Goodwill employees and the store manager rushed to put a then-small fire out with a fire extinguisher.
Yolanda Kokayi, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries of North Georgia, said witnesses told her that the fire started from a small flame in a bulk storage container between the middle and rear of the store and quickly flared out of control.
The fire department arrived at approximately 7:24 p.m., according to county Fire Captain Jay Thompson. He said, then the flames were already burning through the roof. The 12 store employees were already evacuated. No customers were in the building at the time.
Dozens of passersby watched the store burn as three ladder trucks attempted to contain the fire. Fire hoses doused the fire with water from one main weakening pressure, until the department decided to multiple the source.
Several Henry County fire engines were called to the site said Fire Chief Barry Jenkins. He said the department asked for a Clayton County ladder to assist two Henry County ladder trucks, battling what had become a store-wide blaze.
Fire departments in Rockdale, DeKalb and Butts counties also sent units to fill in at Henry County fire stations that had units responding to the fire, said Henry County Fire Capt. David Adams.
The fire department worked through Thursday night into Friday morning still spray water on warm spots in the rubble. Thompson replaced Deputy Fire Chief Brad Johnson, in command, and Battalion Chief Steve Copeland, in charge of operations.
Adams said the nearby Checkers restaurant helped out tremendously.
“They fed every fireman out here until they couldn't eat another bite,” Adams said.
Kokayi said that the existing store is a “total loss.”
“(But) we've been there for several years. And we intend to reopen the store in Stockbridge as soon as we can,” Kokayi said.
Until then, the 29 employees will continue employment at Goodwill stores in Jonesboro and Conyers.
Adams said the firewalls between the Goodwill Store and the other shops did their job and minimized damage to the other shops.
Meanwhile, Jenkins said the fire department will cooperate cleanup with Goodwill Industries' insurance company to obtain heavy equipment on Monday to clear what remains of the old building from the property.
He said investigations will continue through the weekend as to the cause of the fire. He added that the fire was unique for Henry County in that the building was older, around 30 years old, and did not have a sprinkler system. Adams said that if the current building had had a sprinkler system it may have been saved.
Jenkins said the building's attic, or “the void,” helped fuel the flames with oxygen so that by midnight only its steal frame and a drooping Goodwill trademark were left in the structure.
“We assume the entire structure is unstable,” Thompson said standing away from the skeleton. This fire was not the worst he has ever seen but, he said, “it's the worst I've ever worked.”
Staff writer Ed Brock contributed to this story.