On May 8, 2019

Benson Village Store destroyed in fire

Staff report

The historic Benson Village Store has closed due to a fire last week.

“My guess is that it will be declared a total loss,” said Benson Fire Chief Tom Newmann.

The fire started around 2 a.m. April 29.

Store owner James Tillman, who lived upstairs, was asleep at the time, Newmann said.

“Before we arrived on scene,  folks had discovered the fire. While some were calling 911, others were trying to get him awake and out of the second floor,” Newmann said.

Several people placed a 6 foot step ladder in the bed of a pickup truck and climbed up to the porch roof, broke an upstairs bedroom window with a broom and woke up Tillman.

Tillman had cuts on his hands from climbing through the window, but he was safe, according to a press release.

Newmann said the fire started in the basement.

“The investigation is pointing it to be an electrical start to the fire,” Newmann said.

The historic building, which had been through several renovations, made it difficult for firefighters, Newmann said.

“There were inaccessible areas,” he said.

Newmann said they had to cut the floorboards to get to the hot spots in the basement because the stairwell to the basement collapsed.

Firefighters remained at the store for two days to fully extinguish the flames.

“We had a lot of active fire,” Newmann said.

The structure of the building also made it unsafe for investigators to do a complete investigation.

The fire travelled from the basement up a rear stairwell, spreading this fire throughout the structure and roof areas.   

Attempts to reach Tillman and co-owner Robin Morzella weren’t successful.

Tillman, who has owned the store since 2017, said on Facebook that he is working with insurance agents.

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