Wise County Heritage Museum destroyed by fire

A fire ripped through the Wise County Heritage Museum in Decatur early Saturday morning.

Crews were called to the scene just before 1 a.m., and responding firefighters found smoke coming from one side of the three-story building.

Firefighters went into the building, but the fire continued to grow, causing them to fight the flames from outside.

"After forcing entry, it was just inside 30 minutes we had to call, to evacuate the structure and go defensive," Decatur Fire Chief Deroy Bennett said.


Fire destroys church in Wise County, leaving only a cross standing

The Balsora Baptist Church in Wise County was completely engulfed by a fire on Friday afternoon. Despite the damages, the pastor says Sunday service will be held.

Fire and police departments from surrounding communities helped fight the flames and secure the scene.

No injuries have been reported.

The building has been around since 1893, and fire crews said it was destroyed by the fire.

"I was driving through town and I saw the museum sign. I’m visiting from Illinois and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just turn and checkout the museum,’ and as I turned I thought, ‘Wow, I’m a day late,’" Julie Jean said. 

Jean will not get a chance to see what was inside the 130-year-old Wise County museum. It’s a total loss after a fire swept through early Saturday morning.

"It’s a big piece of my history. I remember going through there when I was a kid and loving every minute of it," David Parrish said.

Museum staff said, fortunately, decades of Wise County archives had already been saved online, but that’s only a portion of what the museum showcased.

"All the artifacts and things that have been collected. It’s just a devastation," archivist Sue Tackel said.

Artifacts such as ones once belonging to the Lost Battalion, a group of World War II soldiers, many from Texas, who were captured by the Japanese until the end of the war. Some died while in captivity.

"You can’t replace the things that were in that building," Tackel added. 

A loss extending to ones beyond Wise County. 

"It’s a national one due to the level of collections and artifacts and information that this building held for so long," Wise County Judge J.D. Clark.

The museum director said most of the artifacts were uninsured.

"Because we had no valuation on so many things that were priceless, but we do have insurance on our structure and our business equipment inside," Kerry Clower said. 

The cause of the fire is under investigation.