Abandoned Warehouse Fire in South Memphis

As the column of smoke from the north of the Stax Museum grew blacker, higher and more dense, people could no longer ignore it. A number of young people began leaving the festival and walking north past the LeMoyne-Owen College campus, fearing that perhaps their houses or the houses of people they knew might be on fire. The fire certainly looked to be in the former LeMoyne Gardens area, but as we walked in that direction, we could see that it was further north. It proved to be beside the railroad tracks across from Elmwood Cemetery, and was an old abandoned warehouse. A man came and explained to us that the fire had possibly started when a railroad car’s wheels threw up a spark that ignited the building. Unfortunately, the fire had spread to a lumber car on the nearby train that had started smoldering, which was a more serious problem than it seemed, because other cars on the train were tank cars containing highly-flammable liquefied petroleum, and if they had ignited, the whole neighborhood could have been levelled. As it was, he said he had called the Burlington Northern railroad, and they had sent two engines out to move the cars away from the fire, which by now had attracted 80 or so curious onlookers including a number of kids. People were telling us that the smoke could be seen all the way from Poplar and White Station. Just at that point, a Civil Defense truck pulled up and told us to get away from the area, because they didn’t know exactly what was burning inside the warehouse, and that it could be some kind of chemical. Also, he said that if the fire reached either of two electrical transformers, it could send projectiles across the tracks to where we were standing. So I began to back away, but many others seemed reluctant to leave. We later heard that three teenagers had been seen running from the building shortly before it burst into flames.

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