Carolina Building Fire -- by John Long



On March 1, 1967 at 6:15 am the doorbell at the Elizabeth City Fire Department rang.  The sleeping on duty firemen heard the ringing doorbell.  It was a familiar sound in the middle of the night.  Sometimes it would  only be a lost person passing through town wanting directions but  upon answering the door  on this cold winter morning there stood the janitor from the Carolina Building.  He was overcome with excitement and couldn’t remember the phone number for the fire department so he ran on foot to report the strong smell of smoke in the building. This naturally alarmed the firemen, so they all rose from their warm beds and hastened towards the downtown area.
The Carolina Building was a four story building containing  a variety Store, a ladies and men’s fashion store, pharmacy, the Carolina Theater, a bank, beauty shop, Insurance offices, dentist offices, many professional offices.  It seemed that all the lawyers and doctors occupied an office in this building.  Almost anyone over the age of 65 should remember visiting this building in the heart of downtown Elizabeth City.
This large four story brick building was located on Main Street.  The front covered from Martin St to McMorrine St.  When the first truck arrived on location they went inside the main entrance, the Arcade.  After entering the building, the firemen entered a dentist office and lowered a rope to pull up a firehose.  After the search began they discovered there was a lot of smoke but could find no fire. They began to search for hot spots.  The building was filling with more and more smoke, at this point they recognized that in a short time they would have a very large problem if they didn’t detect the location of the fire soon.
The off duty firemen were called in to help; then the volunteers were paged.  They still couldn’t find the fire but believed it had to be in the walls. As the fire started showing it was obvious they needed more help.  Nineteen departments in all responded to this devastating event helping fight this fire.
There were three pumpers sitting at the waterfront pumping 1000 gals per minute per truck and one at each hydrant on the block.  Around midmorning they thought they had the fire under control but that afternoon all hopes were diminished.  Late Wednesday afternoon the surrounding buildings were a sheet of ice.  The high temperature was 18 degrees that day.  Still into the night water was being pumped on the burning inferno.
As the sun rose over the Pasquotank River and shining down the smoky streets the temperature went up to 24 degrees.  .  More help was showing up to relieve the hungry, tired and cold overnight crew.  All day Thursday there was no change.  The smoke was still bellowing from the building, however by night the smoke and ashes were starting to diminish.
The streets were a sheet of ice from the overspray of water.  The Federal Building and other buildings in the area were encased with ice also.  This didn’t deter the spectators wishing to see the destruction of this major downtown complex housing many of their legal files.
Many memories good and bad that were contained within these walls went up in smoke.
One thing we’ll never see again is the brightly lit marquee that stood out over the sidewalk in front of the arcade that showed the name of the movie playing inside.  The last movie to ever be seen on that screen was titled Funeral in Berlin.
The cause of the fire was never determined.  It has never been determined where the fire started or when it actually started.  To this day all these questions still remain a mystery.
Carolina Building Fire -- by John Long Carolina Building Fire -- by John Long Reviewed by kensunm on 7:00:00 PM Rating: 5

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