TAPPAHANNOCK, Va. — Smoke continued to rise from the ashes in downtown Tappahannock on Monday, a smoldering reminder of the destruction from a fire that tore through businesses and apartments on Prince Street Friday morning.
While the cause of the fire remained unknown, one thing that's for certain is the town's long road to recovery.
“It’s still unbelievable I think," Beth Sharpe, the town's Main Street Executive Director, said. "I thought by now, some of the shock would settle, but it doesn’t seem like it’s actually settled yet.”
A cafe, a law office, and other businesses were reduced to ash and rubble.
"This is where business was done downtown. This is where people came to eat, get their hair done, do professional services, and shop," Sharpe said. "And it was destroyed in a matter of an hour.”
Hannah Overton Tiffany, of Tiffany Properties, called this place her second home as she looked out at the charred door frame and battered roof of what used to be her office.
"Everything is meaningful here. Even the rubble is meaningful," Tiffany said.
Tappahannock's interim Fire Chief, Paul Richardson, said the fire started on the second floor of a Marine-Sale furniture store on Friday around 11 a.m.
“It did have alarms inside the building, smoke and fire alarms inside the building, which did go off and notified the dispatch center that they had a problem here," Richardson said. “Furniture is very highly flammable. They tried an offensive attack on the fire, but it’s virtually impossible to do. We did a defensive attack of the fire which is protecting the surrounding areas and the buildings and all of that.”
Richardson said when the buildings were built, after a previous fire ravaged that same block back in the early 1910s, the infrastructure had little to no fire protection.
"It's just like a chimney, it just goes up in flames," he said.
Between 125 to 150 firefighters from 10 different counties fought the fire.
While the investigation was ongoing, Richardson said he did not believe someone intentionally set the fire.
Tappahannock's Vice Mayor Anita Lataney said the fire is estimated to cost about $2 million in damage.
Richardson said clean-up was expected to start sometime this week, but how long it will take remained unknown.
“They’re saying maybe weeks, maybe months to clean it up," Lataney said.
Sharpe said the town still does not know how much reconstruction efforts will cost.
"We have a lot of support from the state, from our delegates, from state departments here, to really look at a plan, and I think that until we sit down and really have those conversations, we can't really give it a number," Sharpe said.
While the town waits, the community is coming together to be what they call "Tappahannock Strong."
Rappahannock Times is now selling shirts to raise money for those impacted by the fire.
"There are residents that have nothing, that they have to completely start all over again, and it's just said and it's rewarding to try to help in anyway, to make their time a little bit easier," Elizabeth Haile with Rappahannock Times said.
“It’s powerful," Sharpe said. "It shows that nothing can keep us down. And we’ll continue to grow and yes, although this may be a setback in our revitalization efforts, it will never set us back permanently and I think it will truly propel us forward.”
A GoFundMe has raised nearly $30,000 toward rebuilding efforts.
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