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2012-05-24

Blaze destroys Old Texas Square complex

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 20, a fire partially destroyed the Old Texas Square complex that sprawls along the 700 block of Main Street.

A preliminary report released by the state fire marshal from Austin on Tuesday, May 22, characterized the blaze as incendiary, according to Bandera County Fire Marshal John Stith.

"Fire Officer Principles and Practice" defines an incendiary fire as "one that is intentionally started when a person knows it should not be started. An incendiary fire is not necessarily arson." No other information was available at press time regarding the fire's etiology, however. Results are pending from a laboratory examination in Austin and the investigation continues.

Squat for transients

When firefighters entered the complex, they found a mattress, along with other items that indicated the deserted building might have housed transients. Electricity to the deserted building had been turned off. At the request of city officials, personnel with Bandera Electrical Cooperative had apparently pulled meters from Old Texas Square after the complex entered bankruptcy and foreclosure in 2011.

According to information, a smoldering fire began in the former combination hotel, bar and restaurant between midnight and 12:30 am.

However, patrons exiting a nearby watering hole apparently reported the fire to emergency dispatch at 2:05 am.

Purportedly, a videotape from a security camera installed at a laundromat located directly across the street from Old Texas Square is being reviewed to determine when smoke started pouring from the building.

Additionally, eyewitnesses who arrived at the blaze at 2:30 am reported seeing three separate sources of fire - one at each end of the building and a third in the middle.

Stith noted by the time the witnesses arrived at the scene, the fire had undoubtedly spread. He added, "It's not uncommon to see multiple burn sites. However, our investigation has turned up a defined area where the fire started."

Ladder truck helped

Five volunteer fire departments from across the county responded to the blaze - Bandera, Pipe Creek, Medina Lakeshores and Tarpley. Additionally, a ladder truck and firefighters from Kerrville assisted local firefighters extinguish the fire in the two-story building.

"I requested mutual assistance from Kerrville to assist with fighting the fire from the top of the building," said Stith. "Due to the condition of the structure, I didn't want to send men into the building." Lack of local ladder trucks makes extinguishing blazes in buildings of more than one story problematic.

"In fighting fires, you only risk lives to save lives," Stith noted, adding, "Assistance from Kerrville was instrumental in keeping the fire from spreading."

Stith said that a dual command was established at the blaze with Bandera Fire Chief Max Konz serving as incident commander in the rear echelon while Stith managed the forward position.

Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher praised all the efforts. "I was very impressed with the response times from all the volunteer fire departments throughout the county. We would also like to thank the City of Kerrville for sending the ladder truck to assist in the firefighting efforts. We appreciate their generosity."

No breakfast tacos

Bandera City Manager Mike Cardenas arrived at the blaze at 2:30 am. Also at the scene were Schumacher, City Marshal Kenneth Menn, Deputy Marshal Earl Heidelberg, personnel with the Texas Department of Transportation, Constable Precinct 1 Phil Tobin and deputies with the Bandera County Sheriff's Department, among others.

It also didn't take long for Robert Price, reporter for KABB, Fox 29 in San Antonio, and Jennifer Dodd of KSAT - and their cameramen - to arrive.

To the consternation of the would-be breakfast crowd at a nearby Mexican restaurant, TxDOT workers closed off Main Street - aka Highway 16 - one block past Texas Square in both directions to facilitate the fire-fighting effort.

The fire was brought under control at 4:23 am. Firefighters left the scene, but, after ordering breakfasts at a local restaurant, were called back to the complex to extinguish sparks that had flared up.

"It is not uncommon for fires of this type to rekindle," Stith said.

Underscoring his statement, at 4:40 pm on Sunday, Bandera firefighters were called back to Old Texas Square after Menn and Heidelberg detected smoke coming from the vicinity of the former Purple Cow Saloon. Two trucks reported to the scene and firefighters quelled smoldering material by 5:20 pm, forestalling a reoccurrence of the blaze.

Jennifer Claussen, account executive with property owner, Full Service Hospitality, arrived later that morning with developer Al Raijaibi.

She indicated that executives were contemplating offering the building to local fire departments to use in training exercises.

"It would be helpful to test response times," Claussen said in an interview Sunday morning. "That would assist us when we start construction." Old Texas Square was already slated for demolition to make way for a new hotel complex.

Back story & future plans

In September 2010, Ozona National Bank, which held the original note on the property, foreclosed on its lien that secured the note. Bank officials took possession of the Old Texas Square complex in Bandera in January 2011 after the eviction of former owner Jerry Reed.

During a walk through of the property on Jan. 19, vandalism and missing items were discovered. At that time, former Bandera Police Sgt. James Brantley noted that although several internal locks had been changed, intruders had cut locks and destroyed doors to enter secured areas inside the building. The vandalism, break-in and burglary remain unsolved.

Raijaibi, along with other investors, will meet with Cardenas, Schumacher and other city officials this week to discuss plans for the new hotel complex.

Thanking the city, Stith said, "The cooperation we received from the city ensuring a water supply for the fire-fighting efforts was excellent." He added, "I am very happy when we come out of a incident like this without injuries."

According to Cardenas, water pressure throughout the city was not adversely affected during fire-fighting efforts.

"We are extremely grateful that the fire did not spread to adjacent buildings and that no one was injured," Schumacher said. "We are looking forward to hearing about Mr. Raijaibi's plans for the property and working with him and his partners."

"We are looking at a couple of persons of interest," Stith said, "and a reward is being offered for information."

Anyone with information on the fire is asked to call
City Marshal Menn at 830-796-3456,

the city office at 830-796-3765 or 830-460-7170
or
Stith at 830-460-8183.


Pictured: Firefighters with five county volunteer fire departments battled a blaze that was reported at 2:05 am, Sunday, May 20 at Old Texas Square on Main Street.


Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher spoke with Robert Price, KABB, Fox 29 reporter, on the morning of Sunday, May 20, about the fire that partially destroyed the Old Texas Square complex on Main Street.