Tool Caused N.C. Courthouse Fire

The Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro, N.C., before the fire on Mar. 25, 2010.

Credit: Chatham County

Last Thursday, the restoration of a courthouse in Pittsboro, N.C., derailed when a fire broke out in the 1882 structure.

Today investigators announced the cause of the fire: a soldering iron, which a construction worker was using to repair the gutters of the Chatham County Courthouse.

"A thorough investigation of the evidence led us to a conclusion fairly quickly," County Fire Marshal Thomas Bender said in a statement today.

North Carolina-based Progressive Contracting began a $410,000 restoration of the courthouse earlier this year.

The fire broke out at 4:30 p.m. on Mar. 25, and 75 firefighters responded, according to Pittsboro Fire Chief Daryl Griffin. No one was hurt in the blaze, which destroyed the courthouse's clock tower, roof, and part of its second floor.

County commissioners, who toured the building yesterday with structural engineers, hope to rebuild the courthouse. Its walls are structurally sound, according to Sally Kost, chairwoman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, and even roof trusses can be reused to rebuild the courthouse.

"All indications from all the engineers is that the building looks as though we are going to be able to rebuild it. We are very excited about that," Kost says. "It was a great old building with very thick walls, and it's looking very strong."

The fire left the county's historical records relatively unscathed. A history museum was located in the southwest corner of the building, which received the least damage. Crews removed hundreds of smoke- and water-damaged documents on Sunday and are sorting through the material today. "A lot of it will be able to be salvaged," says Barbara Pugh, president of the Chatham County Historical Association, which oversees the museum. "Everyone says it was just amazing."

Did you know that a historic building is vulnerable when it's being restored? Read more


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