Massive fire destroys multiple buildings in Tappahannock

Published: Jul. 15, 2022 at 12:52 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 15, 2022 at 11:28 PM EDT
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TAPPAHANNOCK, Va. (WWBT) - A large structure fire struck Tappahannock on Friday afternoon, destroying buildings and shutting down all lanes of Route 360 in the area.

Residents say an art gallery, real estate office, beauty parlor, and cafe were among many buildings affected by flames.

“This is the center of town, and these buildings are so old. I mean, I use to eat there every other day, and it’s just gone now,” Tony Richards, who works nearby and saw the fire, said.

Richards said he works not even a block from where the fire started, and when he heard sirens, he ran outside. He said the heat was so intense you could feel the flames across the street, and the dark cloud of smoke could be seen from miles away.

“Oh yes, it was 100 feet high, and it was crazy,” Richards said.

The fire destroyed historic buildings, businesses, and apartments. One of those residents displaced was Tiffany Lowery, who said she lost everything, including her cat, Bubbles, who she said was like a family member. She said the last she and her boyfriend saw of their cat was when Bubbles was in the window before the flames took over her building.

“He did not deserve to die. He probably seen me and him both in the background just looking at him, asking why ain’t you helping me,” Lowery said. “Why aren’t you here, mom?”

The Tappahannock Essex Fire Chief said the fire started in the back side of the Martin-Sale Furniture, but they still don’t know the exact cause.

“Fire trucks did arrive here and saw a fire on the backside of the furniture company, and at that point, it spread pretty fast,” Chief Paul Richardson said.

Richardson says nine different fire departments responded to the scene.

“We’ve got four towers that take a whole lot of water. So, we had to set up draft at the nearby river to supply the towers with water, which they’re pumping like 15 hundred gallons per minute,” Richardson said.

There are no injuries, but Richardson says many firefighters were taken to local hospitals due to heat exhaustion, something neighbors tried to step up and help with.

“He said, ‘we need ice. The firefighters are getting heat exhaustion.’ It was so hot, and I said, ‘well, we got plenty in the dining hall,’” Cupper Dickinson, with St. Margaret’s School, said.

Dickinson and her team filled up ice chests to put drinks in for the firefighters.

She said Tappahannock saw a similar fire on the same block more than 100-years-ago with what is known as the Ritchie House as the only building still standing like it is today.

“Unfortunately, the community has come together over something that’s tragic, but we will bring it back together,” Dickinson said. “This has happened before, and we survived, and we’ll do it again.”

Richardson says out of his 15 years of serving as fire chief, this is the worst he’s encountered.

“It’s pretty bad. If you’ve seen me sitting over there, I’m just taking everything in. To lose a building like that, it was a pretty old building,” Richardson said. “A wooden building with blue construction like that, we knew it was going to be a hassle to put this fire out.”

Richardson says residents could expect power outages and no water until the scene is cleared.

Viewer photos and videos showed heavy smoke and fire coming from the downtown area around 1 p.m.

A massive fire breaks out in Tappahannock on Friday, July 15. (Video: Reavis Bill)

There’s currently no information on what caused the fire.

A GoFundMe has been started to help with relief efforts.

A family member has also set up a GoFundMe to help Lowery and her boyfriend recover.

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