No one was injured in an early morning blaze that destroyed parish records concerning its off-system bridge program. The fire was reported at 6:57 a.m. Monday.


No one was injured in an early morning blaze that destroyed parish records concerning its off-system bridge program.
Calvin Martin, a parish truck driver from Anacoco, was in the rear of the building where the shop is located when he heard something popping, he said. A storage area, filled with paper records, takes up the second floor of the building, while office space is located in the front, on the ground floor, and a shop is located in the back, also on the ground floor.
"I looked to my left and saw smoke, and there was a ball of fire about the size of a pick-up truck," he said. Martin called to secretary Debra Nicholas to leave the building. "The next think I know the whole thing was on fire."
Donald Newman, a parish truck driver from Leesville, saw the fire and called 911 at 6:57 a.m.  
"That upper deck was enveloped in fire," he said.
Other workers, including Andre Foster, a sign man from Leesville and truck drivers Johnny Phillps, of Leesville, and Darrell Moore, of Slagle, were outside the building when the fire started. Three other workers are in Mississippi taking a class, said Nicholas, who is from Anacoco.
According to Vernon Parish Police Jury President Jim Tuck, the fire destroyed quite a lot of old records.
"A lot was on digital, but not all of it," said Tuck, who was on the scene as firefighters began raking the smoldering records out of the building to prevent any flare-ups. Tuck added that he feared much of the records dealing with the parish's off-system bridge program, including inspections, had been lost.  
The federally funded bridge program is administered through the state and requires requires keeping up with the inspection of bridges to ensure safety and compliance. The bridge inspection office was the area which received the most damage during the fire.   
If the copies of the inspections, including the exact specifications of each bridge in the parish, can't be recovered from the engineering firm that performed the inspections or from the state, then the parish could face the significant cost of having to have each bridge re-inspected.
If no copies can be located, the next step will be to contact the state for guidance.
As for the workers and their work space, Tuck said that plans were being made to set something up so the workers could get back to business.
Nicholas suggested that a small out-building would make a suitable office if electricity could be turned on there.
The primary responding fire department was Slagle Volunteer Fire Department. Other responding departments were Leesville, Fort Polk, Simpson, LaCamp and Sundown.
The cause of the fire is unknown, said Bill Bellamy, assistant chief for the Slagle Volunteer Fire Department. However, Bellamy said it's possible that the state fire marshall may be able to determine a cause when that agency performs its investigation.  
Bellamy also expressed appreciation to the other fire departments.
"I thought it worked out well with all the team work," he said. "We all did what had to be done."