Chief Says Demolition Workers Who Started Gulfport Fire Did Not Have Permits

The spectacular fire could be seen for miles. Piles of intense, black smoke billowed hundreds of feet in the air.

"I hadn't seen anything like that in a while. It was a lot of smoke," said Gulfport Firefighter Mike Bond.

"It was a very impressive fire," the fire chief said.

The smoke and flames smothered the former lumber site off Landon Road. Gulfport's fire chief says the fire started when workers were tearing down the frame of one of the vacant structures.

"They were cutting with a cutting torch," said Gulfport Fire Chief Pat Sullivan. "Some metal and the sparks from that hit some foam, and the foam caught on fire. It also involved a gas meter. The gas meter was on fire."

Firefighters feared that if they put out the gas fire, the gas would build up and explode. So they attacked the blaze on both sides of the meter.

"The gas company was out here," Sullivan said. "They actually had to dig up the line to go down and cut it off, because they couldn't get to the valving."

While firefighters were focused on putting out the flames, state DEQ officials say they found something else on the property that raised some concerns.

"Our investigation on this site has revealed a number of 55-gallon drums that are full of what appears to be old oil on site," said Earl Etheridge with MDEQ. "And we found an area in the back that has heavy ground contamination.  As our understanding from the city, the contractor doing the work has no permits to do the work, to do the demolition."

Investigators say they must now determine the possible violations and who's responsible.

"We have put a stop work order on them until we could make those determinations and clean it up," Sullivan said.

The chief says the workers may face fines for not having a permit. He says no one was hurt in the fire and the wind was blowing in the right direction, so firefighters didn't have shut down the Interstate, Highway 49, or surrounding businesses.