Gulfport Fire Rekindles Post Hurricane Fears

Flames ripped through the top floor of Virgil Gillespie's law office.

"What a hurricane can't destroy, fire can," said Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan. "We had a tough time getting this fire out."

Smoke poured out of the 14th Street office building. Fire teams hosed down the 85-year-old structure, but they couldn't save it.

"It withstood Camille. It withstood Katrina," Sullivan said. "But fire is so devastating."

So devastating, and so scary. Flames shot through front windows. They lit up the pre-dawn sky.

When Ernest Ulrich first saw the fire, his heart started racing.

"I was more concerned about the fire than the hurricane," he said.

Ulrich rushed down to 14th Street, because he owns the restaurant right next door to the fire.

"The question is when is the earthquake going to come," Ulrich laughed. "You survive a hurricane. You survive a fire. It's like, 'What's next?'"

What's next? Fire departments all over the coast wish their investigators could come up with an answer. Here's what they know. The coast is already a hurricane disaster area. And that makes virtually every damaged building, and every debris pile a fire hazard waiting to ignite.

"There isn't a fire department on the coast that isn't extremely worried about these exact conditions, this exact situation," Sullivan said. "When you have electrical lines that are broken, you have all the issues we have with damaged buildings, there is a potential for fire every time you turn around."

Fire investigators have no idea how the fire started. The fire temporarily knocked out power. And that forced St. John Elementary School to close for the day.