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Fire Closes Part of State Farmers Market

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RALEIGH — A fire at the State Farmer's Market early Sunday evening has closed one of the most popular retail areas of the complex. Monday morning found investigators searching through the ashes, trying to determine the cause.

Flames spread quickly and smoke filled the night sky, but firefighters suspect the fire smoldered for quite some time at the Market Exchange, also known as the retail area, of the Farmer's Market.

The building housed Ford's Fancy Fruits, the Nahunta Pork Outlet, along with other vendors who provided fresh produce, baked goods, jams and jellies, crafts, candy and ice cream.

About one-third of the building was heavily damaged.

Other areas of the State Farmer's Market, such as the seafood and country restaurants, the flower and plant shed, along with wholesale sheds, will all continue to operate. They were undamaged.

The State Farmer's Market is off Lake Wheeler Road, just south of the downtown area.

"There were 10 tenants there that had fruits, vegetables and baked goods, so I really hate it for those small business people, who at this point will need to begin again," said Charles Edwards, the Market's manager.

For some vendors, this is their only source of income.

Not all the vendors have a back-up plan for emergencies such as this. Indeed, few of them carried insurance on their businesses.

"I couldn't see a fire here," Ken Pierce, a vendor, ruefully acknowledged. He said as recently as last week someone had asked him about it, but he did not think it necessary to carry insurance.

Larry Pierce is general manager of the Nahunta Pork Center at the market, a family-owned-and-operated business. The main operations are about 10 miles outside Goldsboro in Wayne County. The outlet at the Farmer's Market has been quite successful.

"We've been here a number of years, and seen a lot of success, made a lot of friends. We are just sorry it has turned out like this," Pierce said.

Pierce said it is too soon for his company to have any plans.

Edwards told business owners that it would be quite some time before their retail area could re-open. Some vendors' stalls that were not burned nonetheless sustained smoke and water damage. In an early assessment, Edwards speculated that the masonry building will have to be gutted and refurbished.

"I talked to the manager, and he said it would take several months to get it fixed back," said Barbara Johnson, the owner of Barbara Johnson Produce. "And I'm going to start back from scratch because I love dealing with produce."

Edwards indicated the market's management will try to find a relocation spot for the affected businesses while rebuilding is under way.

Four engine companies, three ladder trucks and two ambulances were called in to assist with fighting the fire, which was extinguished in just over an hour, although some hot spots remained.

No information has been released on the fire's cause, but Assistant Fire Chief Phillip Woodlief toldThe News & Observerthat there is "no reason to think it is anything more than an accident." On Monday morning, officials said they hoped to have a report by mid-afternoon.

No monetary estimate is available on the loss.

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Ken Smith, Reporter
Ken Bodine, Photographer
Kelly Gardner, Web Editor

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