Convention center's roof fire ruled an accident

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - They were supposed to be patching leaks on the roof of the new convention center.  But what work crews accidentally did was spark a weekend fire that filled much of the new complex with the smell of smoke.

The estimated $2,000 in damage was isolated to an area right next to a hatch opening, an opening that takes you from the complex's second floor to its roof.

On the roof Monday were construction workers and blow torches.  The crews used the heating devices to stick a tar roofing material on the facility's $57 million metal deck.  Phil Logan sells that material.  He says it acts like the shingles on top of your house to "mainly keep the water out of the building."

While crews were doing the same work near the roof hatch late last week, one of the torches sparked a series of events that nearly created a disaster.

"It's an unfortunate thing," Coliseum Director Bill Holmes said.

Nobody on the work crew last week, and nobody using the facility over the weekend, realized that wood underneath the hatch was smoldering, and fire alarms would eventually sound.

"That was the only thing that was flammable.  And it was the wood underneath the hatch that smoldered, and it smoldered over a period of probably a day-and-a-half or so," Holmes said.

By Sunday, the smoldering embers slowly ate through a small section of roof near the hatch.  Charred springs fell off the steel door.  And a smokey odor filtered through the new facility.  The odor is what alerted people to call rescue teams.

"I'm glad the Biloxi Fire Department responded very quickly," said Holmes.

A day later, visitors to the convention center had no idea where the fire damage was. But they knew something was amiss, because fire alarm lights were still flashing.  Mitchell Mixon was the state fire marshal investigator sent to Biloxi to check out the roof damage.

"We're just fortunate that someone was here that discovered it early and made the damage very minimal," he said.

Mixon ruled the fire an accident.

The convention center roof fire is not supposed to have an impact on future events booked in the expansion area.

Ironically, the same sort of thing happened when crews were repairing the Coliseum arena's roof.  That fire was in 2006.

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