Arson investigators probe Peachtree City Walmart fire

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Flames shoot from a rack on the aisle containing paper products like toilet paper and paper plates toward the rear of the Walmart Superstore in Peachtree City. The photo was taken moments after the fire blazed up and was shared on the Peachtree City Police Department's Facebook page.
Flames shoot from a rack on the aisle containing paper products like toilet paper and paper plates toward the rear of the Walmart Superstore in Peachtree City. The photo was taken moments after the fire blazed up and was shared on the Peachtree City Police Department's Facebook page.

UPDATED 4 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 25 — It has been nearly 24 hours since flames were reported inside the Walmart store on Ga. Highway 54 West in Peachtree City. Three city police officers were treated for smoke inhalation, and many firefighters had to contend with the August heat in addition to the store fire.

Though the fire is out, investigators are working to determine whether arson was the cause of the massive fire.

The huge store — part of its roof collapsed, as shown in an accompanying photo taken by a drone — is closed today, and the chance of it reopening anytime soon is problematic. Thousands of gallons of water were poured through the openings formed by the roof collapse, soaking large areas on the sales floor. Smoke and fire damage likely affected much of the merchandise.

A drone view of the holes in the Walmart roof shows where a fire burned through roof struts, causing the roof to collapse. Drone photo provided by Bob Ross.
A drone view of the holes in the Walmart roof shows where a fire burned through roof struts, causing the roof to collapse. Drone photo provided by Bob Ross.

Extinguishing the blaze in the massive superstore required fire departments from Peachtree City, Fayetteville, Fayette County, Newnan and Coweta County. For some hours Wednesday night, high-pressure water hoses ran across the four lanes of Ga. Highway 54 West, requiring closing the busy thoroughfare to all traffic. The hose ran to fire hydrants that supplied additional water to onsite water supplies.

The Walmart fire was the largest commercial structure fire in many years in Peachtree City, maybe the largest ever locally. Damages may total into the multiple millions of dollars.

The fire alarm call at 7:21 p.m. on Wednesday sent firefighters and police to the scene, where customers and employees were evacuating after the in-store alarm sounded and the sprinkler system activated.

Firefighters found smoke coming from the rear of the store and, once inside, they found flames inside the merchandise area. Firefighters had to remove themselves from inside the store after trusses on the ceiling began to fall, fire officials said last night.

A photo of the roof where the fire broke through shows damage on the northwest area of the store.

Firefighters then fought the fire from the building’s exterior, using ladder trucks to deploy water onto the roof.

The only medical issues reported included three Peachtree City police officers treated for smoke inhalation and one member of the public that had a medical complaint, and was treated at the scene and released, Assistant Fire Chief Wil Harbin said Wednesday night.

Aside from the obvious clean-up and other assessments by Walmart, fire officials are continuing their work to determine the cause of the blaze.

Within minutes of arriving after the first alarms, one of the police officers helping to clear the darkened store of any people still present reported via his bodycam that “it was a very large fire” that involved both the electronics department and the aisles of clothing.

Today the department is asking for witnesses to the fire in its early stages to report what they saw. “The Peachtree City Police Department is assisting the Fire Department with investigating the cause of a structure fire that started around 7 p.m. at the Peachtree City Wal-Mart.

“If you have any relevant information regarding the potential cause of the fire or observed any suspicious behavior that you think could be related and you have not already given a statement to an officer on scene please, contact Sgt. Brad Milstein at bmilstein@peachtree-city.org.”

One person posted on the department’s Facebook page a photo of flames in the aisle with paper products and another said, “looks like arson to me. Paper plates just don’t catch fire by themselves.”

Civilians watch as firefighters pour water into the back-store blaze at Walmart. Photo by Carol Kurpiel.
Civilians watch as firefighters pour water into the back-store blaze at Walmart. Photo by Carol Kurpiel.

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UPDATED 9:45 P.M. WEDNESDAY, AUG. 24 — Crews fighting the fire at the Walmart in Peachtree City expect to have the blaze extinguished sometime tonight. Aside from the damage to the store, the fire that began inside the building shortly after 7 p.m. came with three Peachtree City police officers receiving treatment for smoke inhalation and one member of the public treated and released at the scene.

Assistant Fire Chief Will Harbin commenting at 9:10 p.m. said 911 received the fire call at 7:21 p.m., along with a water flow alarm call indicating that the store’s sprinkler system had been activated.

Police and firefighters arrived quickly, as customers and employees evacuated after the in-store alarm sounded and the sprinkler system activated, said Harbin.

Harbin said firefighters initially saw smoke coming from the rear of the store, soon finding heavy fire in the shopping area and coming from the merchandise racks.

Harbin noted that the fire spread, making its way toward the ceiling, with trusses then beginning to fall. It was at that point that firefighters, for safety reasons, took a defensive position outside the building by using ladder trucks to deploy water onto the roof.

The only medical issues reported included three Peachtree City police officers with smoke inhalation and one member of the public that had a medical complaint, and was treated at the scene and released, Harbin explained.

Harbin said he expects the fire to be contained sometime tonight.

The fire marshal is on the scene to investigate the cause of the blaze.

Firefighters begin to get the better of the suspicious blaze at the Peachtree City Walmart. Photo by Carol Kurpiel.
Firefighters begin to get the better of the suspicious blaze at the Peachtree City Walmart. Photo by Carol Kurpiel.

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FIRST REPORT — 

Firefighters from multiple jurisdictions are currently fighting a fire at the Walmart store on Ga. Highway 54 West in Peachtree City.

Commenting on the blaze at 8:15 p.m., Peachtree City Fire Rescue Fire Marshall Jeff Felmet said preliminary information indicated that the fire is inside the store toward the middle of the building.

Felmet said there are no injuries reported at this time.

Units from Peachtree City, Fayette County, Fayetteville and Coweta County are conducting defensive operations in fighting the blaze, indicating that units are using ladder trucks to disperse water onto the roof.

More information will be provided as it becomes available.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Another store closing-On a sad note I just found out that T & G in Fayetteville is closing. I don’t remember when they opened. I don’t recall the store being there in the 1980s (my girls were little and not into sports), but I do remember going there in the 1990s for my son. So it’s been around for a while. Mr. Frank has worked there forever. Great store and super nice man. Sorry to see them go.

      • Let’s thing logically here for a second. If there was accelerant used, or even if there wasn’t, the fire looks and has been reported to be in the paper towel / cleaning products section – an area where a fire would spread and grow rapidly. Paper towels or toilet paper stacked tightly is not much different than dropping a match in a pile of dry November leaves – the fire would spread rapidly. Very few men – and even fewer women – would try to tackle a fire that’s grown to a good size, and when adrenaline and panic kick in, ration and logic disappear and unless you’re a Walmart employee, you would not likely know the location of fire extinguishers. If you’re expecting Walmart employees to take ownership and put their life at risk to put out a fire, I’d argue that few outside of management would be willing. In the course of a few minutes that it would take to get a store manager there, I can see how the fire grows to an out-of-control size.

  2. Interesting. There was a water pressure issue during this fire yet concerned citizens have been assured that our water system can handle a water sucking data center. I suspect some folks are drinking corporate Kool-aid. Perhaps we need an uncensored report from the Fayette County Water Department.

    • Why would you think a Data center, IE a building full of computers would use any more or less water than any other warehouse type facility? I fully get your point about water capacity but just your illustration is WAY OUT in left field.

      • Data centers do use a lot of water, but I’ve heard they recycle a good deal of it. I think it’s used for tranferring heat like car’s radiator, so they only need to replace what they lose.

        Electricity would be a bigger concern since the equipment and specialized AC systems require a lot for an area that lacks big boy infrastructure.

        • Yes, they do recycle some, but not as much as they would like everyone to believe. No one has been able to tell us (or wants to tell us) what system(s) they plan on installing or how much resources the center will require. We also have not heard if the water department has even been asked for their input.
          Back to the fire – has anyone heard what Walmart plans to do?

          • In the process of cleaning out the store from the fire. Seeing lots of contractors on site. So most likely the old girl will be back soon better than ever.