By CRISTIN REECE
Palestine Fire Department officials continue to search through the debris of a building that was destroyed by fire over the weekend.
They have not released the names of the two individuals who perished in the blaze, which started some time around midnight Saturday in the 100-year-old commercial building on 119 E. Oak St., in downtown Palestine.
“We want to be 100 percent positive before we release (their names),” Palestine Fire Chief Alan Wilcher said Thursday as city and fire staff used heavy equipment to comb through the rubble. “We’re pretty certain (they know the victims’ identities), but that’s just not good enough. We’re waiting on dental records to confirm and if we have to, we’ll do a DNA test.
“We want to give the families closure as quickly as possible, but we also want to make sure our information is 100 percent.”
Wilcher said autopsies have been performed on the remains of the two victims.
Just after midnight Saturday, Palestine police dispatch received a report of the fire. Palestine Fire Department responded with three engines and a command vehicle.
“The crew who fought this fire is our ‘A’ crew, which usually has the youngest, least experienced members — some of them are just out of the academy — but they responded just like any seasoned team would have,” Wilcher said. “They took care of business. I’m very impressed with what they did and how they did it.”
Wilcher said efforts in fighting the conflagration in the three-story building was hampered since the department’s ladder truck was down for repairs at the time of the fire.
“We are very appreciative of the Jacksonville Fire Department for loaning us their ladder truck and for their help,” Wilcher said. “Our ladder truck was delivered back to us just today. I hope we don’t have to use it again, but we do have it back.”
Wilcher also thanked all the volunteer fire departments who responded for assistance and the rest of the community for their support during the incident.
“We had city staff and other people bringing us food, water, Gatorade — they were calling from Walmart asking what we needed,” he said. “The community really came through.”
Officials continue to search the site for clues to the cause of the fire. Wilcher said remains of the building’s wiring and breaker boxes are being investigated but because the fire burned so hot, so fast, those leads might not pan out.
“The aluminum (in the building) melted, so that fire got at least 1200 degrees — a lot of old wood, in a building that was fairly open, so it got plenty of oxygen,” Wilcher said. “It makes it difficult to determine cause but we’re going to follow up on all leads and information we receive.”