Mississippi Agriculture Museum Fire Investigation Begins

By JACK ELLIOTT JR. | November 17, 2014

A two-alarm fire at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum was believed to have started in a barn, but fire investigators were sifting through the charred debris to determine the exact cause, fire officials said Friday.

Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Ricky Davis did not give a timetable to complete the investigation into Thursday’s blaze.

State Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith said one worker was treated for an arm injury that was not life-threatening. The fire destroyed thousands of dollars in equipment.

Most animals that live at the museum, including mules, goats and horses, were rescued. Hyde-Smith said museum workers think some rabbits were killed. The surviving animals were taken to live at local farms or in the Jackson Zoo.

“The main thing is our employees are safe, the animals are safe and you know, we’ve got some broken hearts, but we’re going to be OK,” Hyde-Smith said.

Greg Travis, spokesman and chief arson investigator for the Jackson Fire Department, said Friday that the fire is believed to have started in a barn. It and a barnyard are a total loss. A maintenance and equipment structure, a storage shed and a feed shed also were damaged. Officials were trying to document the buildings’ inventory.

Travis said more than 50 Jackson firefighters brought the blaze under control about an hour after they arrived Thursday evening.

“It was pretty serious,” Travis said. “I think out people did a great job. They kept the damage confined to the two buildings and limited the amount of property loss. And they did it with the high wind blowing around.”

As far as what happens next, Hyde-Smith said it’s too early to assess just how much it will cost to rebuild the two buildings and equipment that were lost.

Activities at the museum were canceled at least through the weekend.

The 39-acre museum is near Interstate 55 and another busy road in north Jackson. The fire burned during rush hour as thousands of commuters drove home.

The tourist attraction has dozens of buildings, many of them wooden. They include a dozen replica and historic wooden buildings set up like an old-fashioned small town. The museum features an old church, machinery from a cotton gin built in 1892 at Cannonsburg, near Natchez, and a general store built in Camden in 1905. Replica buildings include a printing press.

The complex cost $3 million to build on land donated in 1978. Half the money came from the state and half from private donations, according to the museum’s website.

The museum is a popular spot for school field trips, and several of its buildings are used for parties, charity events and other social gatherings.

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