Abilene's Storied Reporter-News Building Consumed with Fire, Smoke, and Water Damage
ABILENE, TX — The building where the Abilene Reporter-News is located is burning. News crews from KTXS were there and reported that officials told them it was an electrical fire.
Smoke could be seen pouring out of the building as an all-call Abilene Fire Department response happened at around 9 a.m. this morning. Smoke was still billowing out of the top of the building as of 10:45 a.m. Thursday morning.
The KTXS reported on the scene said that officials were concerned of the roof collapsing as three AFD ladder trucks attacked the fire from different directions.
Everyone is urged to avoid downtown Abilene.
No injuries are reported, and according to KTXS, the building was successfully evacuated before the flames spread into the building's attic area.
The Abilene Reporter-News prints the San Angelo Standard-Times. Most of the San Angelo newspaper’s management team is located at the Abilene location. Both newspapers are owned by Gannett.
Update 11:20 a.m.
Reporter-News Editor Reaction: ‘It’s electrical. It’s 9 in the morning. It’s an old building.’
Greg Jaklewicz, who said he was the editor of the Abilene Reporter-News, told a KTXS reporter that the first indication the employees had there was trouble was when the lights started flickering inside the newsroom just after 9 a.m. Thursday morning.
About 10-20 employees were inside the building, he said. All evacuated safely.
As the lights were flickering, a passing citizen knocked on the newspaper building’s front door. “They said, you have smoke on your roof,” Jaklewicz said.
Jaklewicz described what he saw in the roof was similar to “welding sparks” and he knew there was electrical “gear” on the roof because the newspaper ordered maintenance on some junction boxes located there over the summer. It is a two-story building.
Jaklewicz isn’t sure what damage is inside the building. When the news team evacuated, the power was already disconnected and it was dark inside, he said.
Update 1:40 p.m.
Fire Marshal Describes Damage
Captain John Brunett, Assistant Fire Marshal with the City of Abilene, said the fire department received numerous calls about the fire at the Abilene Reporter-News building in downtown Abilene just after 9 a.m. this morning.
He said the fire was considered a two-alarm fire but the department deployed a third ladder truck in addition to the five pumper trucks. In all, there were eight crews, or about 60 firefighters, battling the blaze.
The fire was electrical, Brunett said. The fire was able to grow in intensity and caught the roof assembly on fire. The roof is a TPO roof. TPO is an acronym that stands for Thermoplastic Polyolefin, a type of single ply roofing membrane. It was laid upon a wood frame, Brunett said.
“It’s an older building that has been renovated several times,” Brunett said. It was also located in downtown Abilene where the fire happened during the busy morning.
“Water supply was a problem,” Burnett said of downtown Abilene. The supply problem arises because of peak demand during the business day. The AFD worked with the City of Abilene water department to increase water pressure downtown and had no trouble with water pressure.
Each hose on a ladder truck sprays 1,000 gallons of water per minute, he said.
Abilene Fire Chief Cande Flores took over as scene commander shortly after the firefighters arrived. Sometime within the first hour, Flores ordered all firefighters off the building. He was concerned about the stability of the building.
“At that point, we went defensive,” Brunett said, describing how firefighters doused the building and the rooftop area where the fire was seen with three ladder trucks. The water’s cooling effect on the hot fire caused more smoke to rise, creating a very visible fire scene.
Brunett described the damage to the roof as a “partial burn-through.” The roof did not collapse as some on the ground had feared. The battle with the fire opened the roof in several areas and now all of the water from the aerial attack from the ladder trucks is settled inside the basement of the building.
“That’s why there’s not a lot of water running down the street,” Brunett said.
Brunett estimated the fire department will begin re-opening streets in downtown Abilene after 3 p.m. today. As of 1 p.m., firefighters were still finding hot spots.