By Stephen D. Bowling
February 17, 1992- Thick, black smoke poured from the windows of the white concrete-block building at the corner of Court and Main Streets. When the fire truck arrived, those who stood on the corners of the streets had little hope that the building could be saved. In fact, the entire city block was in danger, but the fire department went to work. J. K. Murphy also grabbed his camera and headed to Main Street.
The alarm sounded just before 10:00 p.m. on Monday, February 17, 1992. The dispatcher at the Jackson Police Department radioed that a Main Street business was on fire. A driver making his way down the street spotted the smoke and went to the police station to report the danger. Firefighters, who were to be training at the fire department, rushed to the scene to find the fire at the Corner Pool Room in the basement and the Corner Lunch, upstairs. Smoke poured from every window, crack, and door. Firefighter saw smoke coming from vents on the front to My Best Friends Closet and B & P Video in the building adjacent to the Corner Lunch.
“It looked pretty bad,” firefighter Arch Sebastian told The Jackson Times. “The smoke was worse than we’ve seen it for a while.”
The thick, black smoke laid low on the street and firefighters, fearing a dangerous and possibly deadly flashover, broke out a back window of the building to help the smoke escape. After suiting up, donning their oxygen masks, and entering the building, firefighters found a large “fireball” in the ceiling of the back room of the pool hall. They discovered that the fire had spread inside the wall and up into the Corner Lunch above.
Volunteer Fire Chief Arch Sebastian said that it was “like fighting two fires at the same time” and both had an “astronomical amount of heat and smoke.”
The Jackson Fire Department called for assistance from area fire departments and started their effort to put out the fire. After about 45 minutes of fighting the fire, additional crews arrived on the scene. A total of 45 firefighters from Vancleve, Beattyville-Lee County, Quicksand, and Primrose made their way to Main Street and were employed in the battle.
The fire quickly spread up through the floor into the Corner Lunch. The fire burned away the stairs that led to the third floor. Jackson’s ladder truck, Ariel One, was set up on Main Street and proved very effective at preventing the spread of the fire to the adjacent building. The fire crews struggled to slow the blazed but were hampered by the lack of breathing apparatuses and bottled air.
For more than two and a half hours the crews fought hard to stop the blaze. Firefighters declared the blaze extinguished and left the scene around 2:30 a.m. Early the next morning, a passerby noticed smoke coming from the building and the Jackson Fire Department returned to the Corner Lunch to extinguish a mattress that was smoldering on the third floor.
Local residents could remember at least five fires in the building prior to the February 1992 fire. The Jackson Times reported that there was no insurance on the Corner Lunch building, which was owned by Dorsie and Betty Tolson. My Friends Closet, owned by Carolyn Warrix, received “severe damage” from smoke that found its way through the walls from the Corner Lunch. The cause of the fire was not determined that night.
Older members of the Jackson Fire Department still recall the intense heat and blinding, black smoke from that night. Many fire veterans talk about the battle they won against a foe that had a head start.
Following the fire, greater emphasis on firefighter training and certification brought additional volunteer firefighters to the area departments. The local fire suppression efforts were improved, and more effective equipment was purchased, but the ever-present threat of fire remains a serious danger for Jackson’s old buildings and our residents.
In memory of J. K. Murphy for his tireless efforts through the years to preserve Jackson and Breathitt County through his priceless photographs.
© 2023 Stephen D. Bowling