Freddy Vanaman and his family watched in horror as their convenience store of 23 years burned to the ground. Freddy was too emotional to say much, but he did say he arrived at the store just a few hours earlier, preparing to open for the day when he smelled smoke. He immediately dialed 911.
Harrison County Fire Marshal George Mixon says crews from four fire stations responded quickly.
"When we arrived on the scene there, we found heavy smoke coming from the building. And shortly after that, we had what we called a blowout, where flames started shooting out of the windows and the doors of the facility," explains Mixon.
The building collapsed in a matter of hours. As firefighters kept recurring flames under control, nearby residents gathered to watch. Robin Shaw lives just down the street. She remembers visiting the store often.
"J & M Grocery was a big part of the community, and this was a gathering place in the morning times for people to have coffee and talk and meet before the day got started," says Shaw.
Grace Davidson is a member of the Vanaman family. Both her sister and niece work at the store.
"It's an emotional day, it really is. There's a lot of things that go on in the background of the store. It's not only just a store, it's a family store as well."
For the Vanaman family, this was their livelihood. The whole family chipped in to sell the only gas, groceries, and supplies in a seven mile radius.
Davidson says, "It's a big hit for them. Like I said, it's been in the family for years. So that was their life, that's their life, their income."
The Vanamans did have a small insurance policy on the business, but it's not enough to rebuild. However, they still hope to do so one day.
As Grace Davidson says, "Now it's just a matter of rebuilding; kick back and see what we can do. You know, together we'll make it."
Harrison County Fire Marshal George Mixon says a Thursday morning thunderstorm may have caused the fire. He says, it could have been a lightening strike, or a possible electrical problem from a power outage. The state fire marshal is investigating.