By Debbie Adams
Saturday, July 2, was a devastating day in the Town of Vinton. The town lost one of its historic landmarks to a fire which began in the early hours of the morning in the heart of downtown Vinton.
At approximately 1:54 a.m., Roanoke County Fire & Rescue and the Vinton Police Department responded to a commercial structure fire at the corner of South Pollard Street and East Lee Avenue. The crew from Station 2 (Vinton) arrived within four minutes, joined soon after by first responders from Roanoke County and Roanoke City.
First-arriving crews from Vinton found heavy smoke and fire showing from the first floor of D.R. Music at 101 East Lee Avenue. Nearby businesses affected by the fire included Edward Jones Investments at 103 East Lee Avenue, whose roof collapsed, Faith’s Hair Studio at 206 South Pollard, and Anita’s Alterations at 208 South Pollard. Rustic Creations at 107 East Lee sustained some smoke damage as well.
“In addition to several first-floor businesses, the fire also affected a number of second-floor apartments,” said Town Manager Pete Peters. “Upon arrival, first responders rapidly confirmed that no residents and business owners remained inside the primary or adjacent structures, while members of the Town of Vinton Public Works and Police Department worked to close streets and secure the downtown to allow fire crews to work the site.”
Early on, crews from AEP, the Western Virginia Water Authority, and Roanoke Gas were called in to assist, and disconnected power and gas lines leading to the affected buildings where necessary.
The WVWA issued a statement at about 8:30 a.m. about the fire’s effect on the downtown water supply.
“Customers in the downtown Vinton business district may experience reduced water pressure and/or some discoloration of their water as additional thousands of gallons of water have been pulled through the distribution lines to fight the fire. Reduced water pressure will return to normal pressure after the firefighters have completed their job.”
“From approximately the time of the call, to well after 7 a.m., fire crews actively worked the fire until it was sufficiently extinguished,” Peters said. “There were no injuries to the human occupants or first responders; however, three cats perished in the fire. There has been no determination yet made as to what caused the fire, although due to the extensive damage sustained by the building, the primary structure located at 101 East Lee Avenue was determined to pose a public hazard and was ordered to be taken down by the Roanoke County Building Official’s Office.”
After the roof collapsed on D.R. Music, Incident Command was concerned that the entire building could collapse and so some units had to back away from the building temporarily.
Due to the large presence of fire and EMS personnel and equipment, and also due to the possibility of a building collapse, most of the streets in downtown Vinton were closed.
“Several adjacent structures also experienced significant damages, although additional building assessments will be needed in the coming days and weeks to determine their eventual fate,” Peters said.
Roanoke County Fire Marshal Brian Simmons said that the fire was one of the most intense commercial fires Roanoke County Fire & Rescue has been called upon to fight. Brian Clingenpeel, Community Outreach Coordinator for Roanoke County Fire & Rescue, says causes are sometimes difficult to determine when there is damage as severe as in this case.
Demolition experts from W.E.L. Environmental Services arrived on-site early in the morning to prepare for taking down the music store.
According to Clingenpeel, the Roanoke County Fire Marshal’s Office was on scene throughout the day to investigate and provide a damage estimate. Officials could be seen continually raking through the debris and taking photographs of the damages.
Hot spots continued to flare up throughout the morning, leading the fire department to continue spraying water throughout the day as debris was dragged from the building by the excavator once demolition was underway. A heavy thunderstorm in the afternoon eventually extinguished any remaining areas of concern.
“There were apartments above both of the commercial structures that were on fire,” Clingenpeel said. “Eight adults from four apartments were displaced as a result. The American Red Cross was on scene to assist those displaced.”
As of July 6, Peters said that one lane remained closed on both South Pollard Street and East Lee Avenue “so Roanoke County can complete building assessments on the adjacent side of the structure and additional fencing barricades can be put up to restrict access to the site and contain any falling debris.” Caution tape had blocked off the area since Saturday.
Most of the Town of Vinton leadership team was present throughout the day on Saturday including Mayor Brad Grose, Councilman Keith Liles, Town Manager Pete Peters, Assistant Town Manager Cody Sexton, Public Works Director Bo Herndon, Police Chief Fabricio Drumond, Deputy Police Chief Tim Lawless, Human Resources/Risk Management Director Donna Collins, Community Programs Director Chasity Barbour, along with Vinton Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Angie Chewning, all offering support and organizing the resources of the town to assist. Many town employees from several departments were involved throughout the day from the early morning hours on, along with Roanoke County Deputy Fire Chief Dustin Campbell, Roanoke County Building Commissioner Morgan Yates, and many other Roanoke County officials.
“On Saturday, July 2, 2022, the Town of Vinton suffered a tragic blow to its downtown business section and to the memories of many of its citizens,” said Mayor Grose. “A rapidly spreading fire destroyed the historic building at 101 East Lee Avenue. We thank God there was no loss of human life; regrettably, some pets perished in the heartbreaking event and there was significant loss of property.
“I certainly understand that the loss of the historic building is very difficult for many of our citizens as it represented countless precious memories,” Grose said. “As mayor, I want to thank all our first responders for their quick and professional response. The fire departments, rescue squad, police and Public Works department did an awesome job as they worked throughout the night and into the next day to contain the blaze. Unfortunately, four apartments were destroyed, and the eight residents lost everything.
“It has been truly heartwarming to see the businesses and citizens of Vinton respond to the needs of those directly impacted by the fire. Several restaurants (McDonalds, Big Belly Pizza, Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, Firehouse Subs, and Deb’s Lemonade) provided food and drinks for everyone working at the scene. Many of our citizens have already donated money and clothing to help their neighbors during this terrible time.
“Although very sad, I’m sure we will recover from this experience, and I pray all those that were impacted by the fire will find peace as we move forward together,” Grose said.
D.R. Music owners Rhonda and Donnie Wray lost not only their business and thousands of dollars in inventory, but their dream and 39 years of memories and service to the community. D.R. Music touched so many in the Vinton community with musical instrument rentals, repairs, lessons, and sales and, also their famous hot dogs.
One of the most heartrending sights of the entire day was seeing burned and melted musical instruments being carried from the scene by the demolition crew– trombones, trumpets, maracas, drums, a tuba, guitars– one by one. One man in the crowd commented that he had inherited a guitar from his father which was at D.R. Music for repair.
Many members of the community visited the scene during the day to share their memories and offer assistance and sympathy. Owners of local businesses were there to offer support as well. There were many tears and many hugs. Mayor Grose and Angie Chewning noted that Vinton is always a community that pulls together in good times and in bad.
Once D.R. Music was torn down, demolition, police, and public works employees gathered bricks from the historic White Front Pharmacy/Clover Creamery sign to be given as keepsakes.
Financial advisor George Lester of the Edward Jones Investments firm affected by the fire was at the scene most of the day. While his business is mostly computerized and can be run from another location, he was concerned about securing the office and its equipment which sustained heavy water damage. He also had personal items, which the fire department was able to remove for him, including an American Flag.
Dawn Sullivan, owner of Rustic Creations, was escorted to her building by first responders as well and able to look through the window at damages. While her business did not sustain as much damage as the others, she was concerned about her neighbors.
Clingenpeel updated the situation on July 3, reporting damage estimates at $500,000 for D.R. Music and a total in damages of at least $1.5 million.
The downtown structures affected by the fire were nearly a century old. The building housing D.R. Music was built in 1930. It was the home to White Front Pharmacy, owned by Kenneth Furbush. The pharmacy had occupied the building beginning in the 1930s into the 1950s. Those who frequent the downtown area will recall the iconic “White Front Pharmacy/Clover Creamery” sign painted on the Pollard Street side of the building. The sign was refreshed by a local artist in recent years, after being hidden behind siding until the early ’90s.
The Edward Jones Investments, Faith’s Hair Studio, and Anita’s Alterations buildings were constructed in 1920.
The Town of Vinton, Fleet Feet owner Blaine Lewis, and Boys and Girls Clubs of SWVA CEO Michelle Davis determined that the Boys and Girls Clubs of SWVA “Four on the 4th Race” scheduled for the morning of July 4 would continue as planned through Vinton, but was slightly rerouted to avoid Lee Avenue.
The town and the Chamber of Commerce announced that they would immediately begin accepting donations at the Community Center located at the Vinton War Memorial and at the Chamber office on Lee Avenue for those displaced by the fire. Participants in the race and those who attended the Vinton Fourth of July Celebration at the War Memorial brought clothing and goods to donate. Donations will also be accepted at the July 9 Mingle at the Market concert.