Blaze At Downtown Furniture and Appliance Store Kills 8
CRYSTAL SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) _ An explosion and fire devastated a furniture store Tuesday, killing eight people, including five members of the owners’s family, and critically injuring one person, officials said.
The afternoon blast in the rear of the Watkins Furniture and Appliance Co. peeled sheet metal off the back of the 150-foot building and blew out the glass front, said Copiah County Sheriff Tommy Jackson.
The dead included the mother, wife, brother, sister and sister-in-law of store owner Clint Watkins, said City Attorney Bob Lawrence. One of the victims was the mother of the town’s fire chief, said Jackson.
″We have eight fatalities thus far,″ said Jackson. ″We hope there is no one still in there. I think all the bodies are out.″
The cause of the explosion was not immediately known, officials said, but firefighters at the scene said investigators suspected a leak from ceiling- hung gas heaters.
The fire spread so quickly the store was consumed by flames by the time the first fire units arrived from two blocks away shortly after 3 p.m., said Jackson.
Firefighters extinguished the blaze in about 30 minutes, then searched the charred downtown building four times and emerged with black body bags and loaded victims onto ambulances. The searches were called off at nightfall.
″There is no way anyone could have gotten out alive,″ said banker Gary Worsham, whose office is across the street. ″You couldn’t believe what you were seeing.″
The explosion ″shook everything,″ said Percy Teasley, who owns a farm supply building a block away. ″The left rear of the building just blew out... it just went boom.″
Teasley said he watched the only apparent survivor being blown out of the building, but other witnesses said the man may have been a passerby. Jackson said the man may have been in the building when the explosion occurred.
″When it blew, I saw him (the man) come out on fire. When I got there they had put out the fire on him,″ said Teasley.
He said the explosion sounded like ″what happens when you pour gasoline on a brush pile and set it afire.″
Watkins was not in the building at the time of the blast, the sheriff said. Watkins was one of five candidates for mayor in the town and Tuesday was election day.
Paul Edward Brown, 18, who suffered third degree burns on his face, back, arms and legs, was listed in critical condition at the Mississippi Firemen’s Burn Center in Greenville. He was transferred there after treatment at University Medical Center in Jackson.
Crystal Springs is a community of 5,000 people about 20 miles south of Jackson, off Interstate 55.