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Overnight Fire Destroys Wilson Building

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WILSON — The owner of Worrell's Seafood says he will reopen, in spite of an overnight fire Thursday that destroyed the building.

The fire started before midnight, apparently in the kitchen at the back of the building. It spread quickly, especially once it hit propane tanks that are usually stored outside the restaurant.

"We know that the fire was fueled by some propane tanks that were inside the structure, so that was what made it so hard to put out and what took us so long to get it under control," says Wilson Fire and Rescue Chief Don Oliver. "But until we get the roof off and start getting in, we don't have any cause yet."

Firefighters say the blaze does appear to be accidental.

The fire department is bringing in a crane to remove some of the damage, caused by the roof collapsing into the building.

Barry Ruffin, a third-generation owner, could only watch as the 73-year-old family business succumbed to the flames.

"You just can't believe it. You take every precaution in the world to make it safe -- we have top-notch fire equipment. It's inspected every six months. You wonder what really went wrong," Ruffin says.

As they clean up, firefighters are doing their best to preserve the unusual decorations Ruffin used, from a giant bear to underwater headgear.

The fire leaves 18 people, including James Isom, temporarily unemployed. Isom is the guy who sings to customers on their birthdays.

"I love them," Isom says. "I love singing the birthday song for people that have birthdays, and all that. It was a lot of fun. Being applauded after you sing, that makes me feel great."

Isom says he will be back once the place is rebuilt. Regular customers will count the days as well.

"They have their regular trade, and it's been built up over years," says customer Sam Lynn. "They always have repeat business. Every time I go in there, I see people I see all the time in there."

Ruffin is determined to serve those people.

"We'll be back," he says. "It's just a matter of time. Once the firemen get out of there, and we get cleaned up, the next day we'll be driving nails."

The business has been a staple in the community since 1927, and it is known as one of Governor Hunt's favorite places to stop for a bite to eat.

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Brian Bowman, Reporter
Brian Bowman, Photographer
Julie Moos, Web Editor

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