Van Buren County officials are scrambling about what to do after a fire destroyed the county administrative building in Spencer on Wednesday night.
Firefighters from six counties battled the blaze for nearly 15 hours but were unable to save the building.
“It’s a total loss,” said Van Buren County 911 director David Chandler. “We were able to salvage a couple old books and a few other items from the trustee’s office, but that was about it.”
The administrative building, located at 500 College Street, housed most county offices including offices of property assessor, trustee, election administrator, mayor, and the historical society. Vital county records such as deeds were backed up in Nashville, but many historical items not backed up were lost.
Chandler said an emergency meeting of the Van Buren County Commission was called for Thursday night to discuss what action to take.
“We’re going to have to figure out what we’re going to do temporarily to house these offices and we also have to start thinking about a plan for the future,” said Chandler. “Even if we decide to build a new building, that’s something that will take one or two years.”
The fire was reported to 911 at 10:20 p.m. by a passerby. Van Buren County has all-volunteer fire departments. By the time firefighters arrived on the scene, the old building was engulfed in heavy flames.
“We probably had 100 firefighters up here at one point,” said Chandler. “It was a zero-degree night and those firefighters were absolutely frozen. We set up a warming center and one of the firefighters came in and took off his coat and it stood up by itself it was so frozen.”
Firefighters from White, Putnam, Cumberland, Sequatchie and Warren counties responded with mutual aid. Firefighters were on the scene all night with the last ones leaving Thursday afternoon around 2:45 p.m.
The building was built in 1951 as a school. When the school moved to a different location, the building was taken over by the county to use as offices.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
“The cause is unknown but I haven’t heard anybody say it’s suspicious,” said Chandler. “Arson is not suspected.”