The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is conducting a probe after the Decherd Fire Department and firefighters from neighboring agencies battled a multiple-building fire on East Main Street in the Franklin County town's business district.
Several blocks were closed off while firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze involving two main buildings and some adjacent secondary structures, according to Decherd Fire Chief Chuck Williams.
"It was very hard to control there for a while," Williams said by phone. "At one point, we were pouring 2,000 gallons a minute for probably two hours to contain that fire and cut it off."
Five neighboring agencies responded to help at the fire, he said.
The fire was reported at 1:28 a.m. Tuesday at a short block of businesses on East Main Street, across from the town's post office, according to Decherd Fire Department posts on social media. Traffic was temporarily redirected while firefighter fought the flames.
"When firefighters got to the scene, flames were already coming through the roof of the old grocery store," Williams said, noting that the building was now being used for storage. "The building next to it with the rock on the front was being renovated, burned part of the roof off there, and then it stopped. The Gamble Complex next to it just had water damage."
Tennessee property records show part of the destroyed building was built in 1900, and the other portion was built in 1908. The rock building dates back to 1928, records show.
Owners of all the buildings involved were insured, the fire chief said. Meanwhile, Williams and other firefighters will check the scene frequently as they watch for any rekindling over the next day or so until rains forecast for Thursday and Friday bring relief.
The TBI is probing the incident as an assisting agency, Susan Niland, spokesperson for the agency, said in an email. She did not answer questions about whether foul play is suspected, and Williams declined to comment until the investigation into the cause is complete.
There was no link made between Decherd's downtown fire and wildfires that have popped up in recent days, sparked by the state's ongoing drought, but as Williams spoke on the phone Wednesday afternoon, fire crews responded to a wildfire in northern Franklin County.
"It's on Hickory Hollow Road, and it started out at about 2 acres and now it's about 5 acres," Williams said. "Decherd, Estill Springs and Forestry is out there," he said of fire departments that assisted in the call.
The Tennessee Division of Forestry's wildfire map Wednesday showed Southeast Tennessee's two active wildfires hadn't worsened too much, though the McJunkin Road fire in Polk County is still ongoing and others nearby have since been mostly snuffed out, according to officials.
(READ MORE: Multiple wildfires burn in Northwest Georgia; one found to be arson)
The fire was 90% contained by Wednesday afternoon, said Steve Lofty, the Polk County Emergency Management Agency director. Thanks to Polk's tri-state mutual aid agreements, 11 agencies from neighboring counties and states helped battle the blaze.
The occurrence of so many fires in so short a time makes Lofty suspicious of foul play.
"We have multiple sites on fire in a two- to three-day period," he said. "I know it can happen, but it seems a little suspicious to me. If you see something suspicious, call 911."