Hillbilly Mall fire 911 calls from Dec. 23, 2019

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  Andrews – Sadly, this will likely happen again.
    A fire ignited inside the former Hillbilly Mall on Dec. 23, destroying at least one building. The blaze also damaged the structural integrity of the main building, which will need a new roof and purlins if the next owner plans to keep it.
    “There’s significant heat and roof damage,” Cherokee County Commissioner Cal Stiles said. He and his wife, Janet, own property adjacent to the 28 acres off U.S. 19/74 that house what was last known as Bear Ridge Mall and Bear Ridge Speedway, a go-kart track.
    Firefighters were dispatched to 200 Stewart Road around 7:45 a.m., and the first arriving units found heavy smoke and flames shooting out of the building. It took firefighters 45 minutes to knock down the blaze, which later rekindled around 2 p.m.
    “A bunch of cubicles were in the main part that caught on fire,” Valleytown Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department Chief Justin Hyde said. “It looked like it might have been an office space at one time.”
    Complicating matters, the fire hydrant nearest the building was dry, forcing firefighters to pump water out of a nearby creek to extinguish the blaze. About 20 volunteers from Valleytown helped battle the fire, while only three firefighters from the Andrews Volunteer Fire Department answered the call. Cherokee County Emergency Medical Services sent two units and a supervisor as well.
    Since the fire happened within town limits, Hyde declined to comment on the cause of the blaze, deferring to Andrews fire personnel to make that determination.
    The Cherokee Scout toured the property several hours after the fire, and again the following day. Soot covered the floor and ceiling of nearly every section throughout the building. Yet, it was very clear that people had recently used the property as shelter, and possibly as a temporary residence.
    Several makeshift burn stations were situated throughout the building, with leftover charcoal and paper inside metal lids. A coat, duffle bag and candy were left next to one burn station, while several empty fire extinguishers littered the floor next to one in a different section of the property.
    Couches, tires, a bed mattress and used hydraulic oil barrels were just some of the flammable materials located in various areas of the building. Bathroom toilets throughout the property were full of human waste, and a huge pile of trash rested outside one of the structures, which may eventually become an environmental hazard.
    “Due to an absentee owner, and a foreclosure with no direct supervision of the property, the community is concerned about the adverse effect this will have on the neighborhood,” Stiles said.
    The property used to be owned by Robert William Smith and Judith Ann Smith before they defaulted on a loan, leading to a foreclosure sale, which took place at the Cherokee County Courthouse steps in downtown Murphy on Nov. 4.
    Foreclosure documents show Smith used the property as collateral to borrow $1.5 million from United Bank in West Virginia in 2013. The Smiths still owed the bank more than $1.2 million at the time of the foreclosure sale, which drew no bidders.
    “With the mall wide open for vagrants and no security – and now, unfortunately, a fire at the mall – that building has become a zoning, safety and health issue,” Stiles said. “This is a real liability issue for someone and a security concern for our neighborhood.”