DALTON, Ga. -- Every time John Davis closes his eyes, he sees the flames.
They engulf the Dalton building he bought four years ago to house his and his wife's businesses and several specialty shops.
"I sat there and watched it burn," Davis said. "It was like a bad dream, sitting there and watching it [the fire] grow."
On Monday morning, 24 hours after the raging fire was brought under control by dozens of firefighters, Davis returned to the gutted building in the 300 block of Hamilton Street to salvage some files stored in fireproof boxes.
He didn't find much.
The sign above the front door -- Peacock Alley Antique Gallery and Specialty Shops -- is intact but streaked with smoke. An old nail bin from the original Fraker's Hardware, which served Dalton for 85 years, and an old doctor's chair can be cleaned up, Davis said.
Everything is buried under charred timbers and still-smoldering ash.
The gallery's name came from the road where Dalton women once made and sold bedspreads, which was known as Peacock Alley and was the precursor to the city's carpet industry.
Davis said he will salvage what he can and rebuild. A building inspector assured him the red brick facade is still intact and can be used.
Dalton fire Chief Bruce Satterfield said the fire appears to have started near the front right corner of the building but its cause is undetermined.
On Monday, firefighters monitored the site and put out smoldering spots. Dalton and state fire inspectors will begin their investigation today after the debris has cooled and insurance agents have assessed the damage, Satterfield said.
Several small shops, including eight businesses inside the building, were a total loss. Davis owned Dalton Real Estate and Affordable Sales, and his wife ran Heart's Studio. They rented space to other business owners.
Peacock Alley Cafe, located in the back and protected by a fire wall, had only water and smoke damage. On Monday, green-and-white tablecloths still draped the tables and china was soot-streaked but intact. A blackboard listed Tomato Pie as the special of the day.
The adjacent business, Accounting Data Systems, also had heavy fire damage, Satterfield said. The next building, Whitecotton Leather, had smoke and water damage.
"At one point, I was afraid we might lose the whole block," Satterfield said.
Davis said he arrived moments after firefighters were notified by an alarm company about 6:30 a.m. Sunday. The alarm was triggered by smoke, Satterfield said.
When he got there, all Davis could see was a thin trickle of smoke coming from one area and he thought firefighters would knock it down quickly. He didn't go into the building to try to save anything, he said.
But when firefighters opened the doors, Satterfield said, the fire flared up, breaking out one window. Soon it was through the roof.
"It got so very intensely hot, they had to pull back and go on the defensive, trying to keep it in this structure," Satterfield said.
Old buildings are notoriously difficult when it comes to containing fire, Satterfield said, because they have multiple ceilings where the fire can spread. The building was wood except for a brick exterior.
Firefighters also found low water pressure after connecting to fire hydrants, Satterfield and Davis said. Firefighters were using three hydrants, two that have been tested to pump 1,000 gallons per minute and one tested to pump 1,500 gallons per minute, which is adequate for firefighting. But the hydrants weren't pumping at that rate Sunday morning, he said.
"I can't tell you if it would have made any difference," he said. "I don't know, but we probably could have held it to one building."
Satterfield said tests are being done to determine what the water pressure was Sunday morning.
But Dalton Utilities President Don Cope said the issue was not water pressure, but having too many pumper trucks using one waterline.
Dalton Utilities was called about an hour after firefighters arrived, Cope said. When workers arrived, they had firefighters switch to another hydrant that was on a differe waterline.
Satterfield said the water pressure improved after utility workers arrived, but he said firefighters already were using hydrants from different waterlines.
Some Dalton residents stopped by Monday to view the damage.
Bradley McCoy took several pictures, remembering visits to Fraker's Hardware as a child. He ordered gifts for his girlfriend from the specialty shops and ate at the cafe more recently, he said.
"It [the fire] is just not something Dalton needed," he said, shaking his head. "All they are trying to do to build back the downtown and something like this happens. I hate it."
Veronica French, director of Dalton Downtown Development, said she doesn't know if all the owners were insured, but they likely will be able to get low-interest loans to rebuild. They also will be eligible for low-cost design planning from the Fanning Institute at the University of Georgia.
It may take awhile, but he will rebuild, Davis said.
"It will be a monumental task just to get it cleaned out, but we're not going nowhere," he said. "This is my home, and we are committed to downtown."
Contact staff writer Mariann Martin at 706-980-5824 or email@example.com.
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...
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