Investigators search for arsonist after large Downtown Memphis fire

Published: Jan. 5, 2015 at 9:03 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 5, 2015 at 9:40 PM CST
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(Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Fire shot out of two vacant buildings in Downtown Memphis early Monday morning. Investigators now say that fire was set intentionally.

Memphis fire officials pulled their crews back at one point because the flames were too intense. Investigators say a natural gas leak fueled the strong and potentially dangerous fire.

Fierce flames and heavy black smoke could be seen from miles surging from the south side of Downtown Memphis.

Two structures, in what is believed to be a vacant salvage yard, caught fire just before 4:00 a.m. near Riverside Drive and Virginia Avenue

A natural gas line eruption inside the yard threatened the safety of crews as they worked.

"We left that free burning until we could get the gas line shut down to provide a safer environment," said Memphis Fire Battalion Chief Thomas Beasley.

In bitter cold temperatures, fire crews faced another hazard: an active railway in the line of fire.

"Because of the property condition we weren't able to find the gate to get into the property," said Beasley, "We had to lay lines across the railroad tracks."

Fire officials immediately alerted the rail company to close the tracks as crews continued to fight the flames.

Memphis Light Gas and Water crews were also called in to cut electricity and gas in the area.

Dancing in the dark, the flames burned nearby trees and debris for more than four hours.

Fire investigators say the building sustained about $18,000 worth of damage. They're now looking for the person who started the fire.

If you have any information that can help investigators, call Crime Stoppers at 901-528-CASH or the State Arson Hotline at 1-800-762-3017.

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