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Firefighters extinguish grass fire near Rome Visitors Center

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Rome-Floyd County firefighters were able to douse a fire on Jackson Hill on Tuesday afternoon, just in time to prevent a catastrophic loss to the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Last Stop Gift Shop.

Damages were limited to the corner of the southwestern wall and some of the electrical, heating and air system connections to the depot building.

“We had some (city) workers down on the road doing some maintenance with some painting and they set the pine straw on fire and it ran up the hill and caught the corner of the building on fire,” said Division Chief Brad Roberson.

A city public works crew was burning a thermoplastic stop bar for traffic markings coming off Jackson Hill onto Reservoir Street, using a torch to help the plastic adhere to the pavement. Somehow the pine straw ignited. Flames and thick smoke raced up the hill toward the 116-year-old train depot, which has served as a gift shop for the visitors bureau.

Debbie Law was having lunch with Charlene Mathis, gift shop director, in the back of the building when they noticed the thick smoke. Law walked toward the front of the building and said the smoke was getting thicker and thicker; she stepped outside and saw the flames.

Kathy Mathis, who works in the bureau’s office across the backside of the parking lot, said when she came out from her office, she could see smoke and flames coming from underneath the old caboose, which is attached to the depot building.

Kathy Mathis also said a prison crew working at the Rome Civic Center raced to the area with fire extinguishers to help contain the blaze.

The southwest corner of the building sustained relatively light fire damage; however, the flames knocked out the heating and air conditioning unit, as well as lines running into the building for telephone and computer service.

The interior of the depot and caboose did not experience fire damage but did get smoked up. GRCVB Director Lisa Smith said the gift shop staff would work out of the main administrative office building until conditions allow their return to the depot and caboose.

Smith said repair or replacement of the heating and air conditioning unit is expected to be the largest expense associated with the overhaul of the building. She hopes that work can be accomplished in a matter of a day or two.