The Cornelia Fire Marshal is investigating the cause of a fire at the Grant-Reeves VFW Post 7720 building Tuesday evening.
Marshal Josh Hazle says work is still being done to determine the exact cause, although he says it appears a small fire started near an HVAC unit in the basement. As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, a strong smell of smoke was still apparent at the back of the building where the HVAC system is located.
Cornelia Fire Chief Billy Joe Jenkins also said the problem appeared to be electrical when his team was assessing the damage on Tuesday but that a true determination would not be made until Hazle's investigation concluded.
The fire started just before 7:30 p.m. on June 16 and fire officials from Cornelia arrived within minutes to find smoke seeping from the building. Assisted by Demorest and Lee Arrendale Fire Departments as well as Cornelia Police and Habersham County Emergency Services, everyone in the building was evacuated safely.
No one was injured but an occupant who lived in the downstairs portion has been displaced. The VFW is assisting with temporary housing.
"I'm glad there was someone there to even call 9-1-1," Jenkins tells WCHM, "because if there hadn't been, it probably would have been a different story today."
After evacuating everyone inside, personnel used thermal imaging to locate a small fire in the basement and quickly extinguished the flames. Personnel spent the next 2 hours overhauling the fire area, checking for any extension of the fire, and ventilating the smoke that filled the entire building, including the attic.
Hazle praised the responding agencies, saying, "This was a true save of a large commercial building by a team of well trained and skilled firefighters. The seamless effort of all departments involved made that possible."
Post Commander Bill Miles also lauded the efforts of the Cornelia Fire Department on social media, saying "an outstanding job" was done to stop the fire.
The Post's regular weekly Bingo game fundraisers were scheduled to resume on July 9 after being put on hold due to COVID-19. Now, Miles says that likely will not happen but that he is looking on the bright side. "No worries," Miles posted to Facebook, "we will get through this even stronger than before."