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OUT OF THE ASHES: Friends to help rebuild Bea’s

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Old skylight saved block by venting fire through roof
Ellis County Press Managing Editor
FERRIS - It's as if God looked down with mercy on Bea's Café.

That's how Ferris residents and a fire official saw it this past week as they looked up through the charred remains of an old, forgotten skylight.

Reportedly built into the ceiling to vent heat from the projector in Ferris' old theater, the skylight is credited with saving the entire block.

'The Good Lord, I'd have to say, was looking down on us through that skylight,' said Ferris Fire Marshall Tim Birdwell, who serves Rural Fire District No. 6.

'If the super-heated gases hadn't escaped, the whole building might have flashed,' he said. 'Walls would have exploded. It all would have been lost.'

Birdwell said the fire should be a wake-up call to Ellis County businesses, especially those in older buildings, for fire inspections and insurance.

'Inspections prevent fires before they start,' said Birdwell, who knows some merchants are hesitant in fear of being fined for not complying with fire regulations.

'I'm not going to issue a citation,' he said, 'unless I can't get any compliance at all. Then that's my only recourse, but I'd rather help them be safe.'

Publisher Charles Hatfield has scheduled a fire inspection at the Ellis County Press and recommends other area merchants do the same for safety sake.

Birdwell said the cause of the blaze at Bea's officially is undetermined. It apparently began in the corner of a storage room. He hasn't ruled out an electrical problem, perhaps an overloaded circuit.

'There was nothing suspicious about it,' he said.

The fire apparently started high, as indicated by a heat line of melted plastics from the ceiling down. Evidence also showed the fire progressed slowly.

Birdwell said the back room's ceiling suffered structural damage and is sagging.

'Firemen did an excellent job keeping it contained,' Birdwell said. 'The (skylight's) shaft assisted in our fire-fighting effort immensely.'

Not knowing about the skylight, firemen saw flames roaring above the restaurant and began pouring water on the roof.

'When the ladder truck goes up, the walls come down - that's an old saying,' Birdwell said. 'All that water, 1,500 gallons per minute, puts a tremendous force on old walls and roof.'

Birdwell said typical procedure is to get a crew on the roof to cut a four-foot-square hole as close to the blaze as possible to dissipate the heat and keep the fire from spreading.

'The skylight accomplished that purpose,' he said.

Gail Villa said Bea's Café would be remodeled according to fire code, and Birdwell recommends a fire alarm system, which would have helped contain damage from a slow-moving blaze.

The Villas didn't have insurance on the café's contents, but the building's owner, Lois Wills, had the building covered. 'You better have it, or you could be out of business in no time,' Wills said.

The building has no history of previous fires.

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