The DeSoto County Visitors Center, located next to the Landers Center in Southaven, is closed until further notice due to a fire that burned part of the building late Sunday night, Oct. 20. The Visitors Center is the main offices of DeSoto County Tourism and is also located next to the County Veterans Park.
DeSoto County Tourism Executive Director Kim Terrell said the right front tire of a passing 18-wheel semi-trailer truck on southbound I-55 fell off, caught fire, bounced through a window and set a section of the Visitors Center ablaze.
The fire was centered in a workroom on the east side of the facility, damaged the workroom and two adjoining offices. There was also damage to the upper section of the facility, along with smoke and water damage throughout the building.
Southaven Fire Chief Danny Scallions said the call for service came in about 10:30 p.m. Sunday. Scallions said flames were seen from the building and forced entry to extinguish the fire.
The tire was found in the workroom once the fire was extinguished, Scallions said.
No injuries were sustained as a result of the incident.
“It could have been a whole lot worse,” Terrell said. “It could have been during the day, when somebody was here. Somebody could have been in that room. It could have come into Margaret (Devine) or Chip’s (Cossar) office, so we’re just grateful that it happened when it did and how it did. The Southaven firefighters and police were right on top of it, so I don’t think we had nearly the damage it could have been if they had not jumped on it as quickly as they did.”
Devine is the Director of Sales for DeSoto County Tourism and Cossar is Director of Sports Marketing.
On the morning following the fire, smoke could be smelled inside and outside the Visitors Center. Fiberboard covered the open area facing the interstate where the 18-wheeler tire entered the building and the outdoor side vents of the facility were blackened by the smoke and fire damage.
“The county was out here and Bob Jarman made sure that everything was in order and he made sure that it all got covered with the (rainy) weather coming in,” Terrell said. “There’s a lot of things that could have been a whole lot different in the big scheme of things.”
DeSoto County Tourism will now have to find temporary office space until the center is cleaned up and repaired, which could take several weeks. Terrell speculated that space may be inside the Landers Center, although as of Monday, Oct. 21, that had not been decided yet.
There was no immediate monetary estimate on damage available.
“The floors are soaked, both carpet and tile and the smells and the soot. It’ll be a few weeks before we can come back,” Terrell said.
Bob Bakken is Managing Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.