Steve Davis was at the barbershop, several blocks away, when he got a call that something big was on fire near his house on Simpkins Street.
When he looked out the window of the barbershop he saw the smoke rising from an abandoned building at 2119 24th Ave. N. that was formerly a Seventh Day Adventists Bible publishing house. The building, north of Fisk University and off of Clarksville Pike, had been vacant for several years.
The Nashville Fire Department responded around 1:25 p.m. Tuesday with at least 20 pieces of fire fighting equipment from three stations on the scene, according to a fire department spokeswoman.
Thick, black smoke and flames were leaping from the building. Smoke hung suspended, spread over several blocks in the heavy hot summer air.
The Simpkins Street home Davis shares with his 83-year-old father sat just about 150 feet from the engulfed building across 24th Avenue and an empty corner lot with overgrown grass.
“I grew up around here,” Davis said. “It’s been here forever and a day, and that building’s never caught on fire. There ain’t no electricity or nothing in it.”
When Davis got home, the building looked “like an inferno,” he said. “You couldn’t see nothing. They wouldn’t even let me down the street at first.”
The fire was contained just before 3:30 p.m., but the building was expected to burn for several more hours.
It was dispatched as a three-alarm fire due to extremely high outdoor temperatures. Additional crews provided manpower so firefighters didn’t get too hot.
Investigators were on the scene, but won’t be able to begin their investigation for several hours. They may even have to wait until morning to enter the building.
Davis said the building had been a target over the years for scavengers, coming to mine pipes, iron and other metal from inside it. He said he’d seen a couple men in a white truck over the past few days going in and out of the building.
After the fire broke out, Davis got a call from the lady who cleans his home, and she said the men in the white truck were there just before it broke out.
“There had been a couple fires [before], but it was just homeless people burning stuff trying to stay warm. That fire right there — that was planned.”
No cause has yet been determined, but fire department investigators were looking for the occupants of a white pickup truck.
The Fire Marshal’s Office urged anyone with information to call 862-5230 during business hours or call the Arson Hot Line at 1-800-762-3017.