Construction Worker Started Courthouse Fire

A fire last week that destroyed much of an historic North Carolina courthouse was started by a construction worker.

The Thursday fire gutted the Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro. The county says it began when a construction worker using a soldering gun to repair gutters accidentally started the fire.

The courthouse, built in 1881, was undergoing a major exterior restoration. "The wind and the old heart pine timbers provided highly flammable fuel which contributed significantly to the intensity of the fire in the building," county fire marshal Thomas Bender said.

County officials say they do have property insurance to cover their buildings, but no decision has been made yet on rebuilding. "We still do not have an estimate of the potential rebuilding cost until we know for sure what parts of the existing courthouse can be saved," said Sally Kost, chair of the Board of Commissioners.

The State Bureau of Investigation is expected to release its official report on the fire within the next few weeks.

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A clock tower has collapsed in a fire that severely damaged a historic North Carolina courthouse that's been the site of a dispute over a video purportedly showing John Edwards in a sexual encounter.

Multiple media outlets reported the tower at the Chatham County Courthouse in Pittsboro collapsed early Friday. The fire started Thursday afternoon.

Hearings have been conducted in the courthouse on the handling of the video by a one-time aide to the former presidential candidate. Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones told The Associated Press on Thursday the materials turned over in the case are in a vault away from the courthouse.

The cause of the fire hasn't been determined, but a city spokeswoman says renovations at the 129-year-old building had begun about two months ago.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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Firefighters are battling a major fire at a historic courthouse in Chatham county.

Officials said Thursday that everyone was safely evacuated from the Chatham County courthouse. Smoke and flames billowed from the building nearly two hours after the blaze began.

The courthouse in the middle of Pittsboro was built in 1881 and has recently been under renovation. County officials said they do not have specific information on the cause of the fire.

The building has been the site of an ongoing dispute about a videotape purportedly showing former presidential candidate John Edwards in a sexual encounter. Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones told The Associated Press on Thursday that the materials turned over in the case are in a vault away from the courthouse.

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  • by MrT Location: LaNC on Mar 30, 2010 at 08:01 PM
    Old heart pine =lighter wood.Almost as flammable as if it had been soaked in gasoline.That is why this building went up in a matter of minutes.
  • by tug Location: New Bern on Mar 30, 2010 at 07:58 PM
    Once a fire gets hold of that old heart pine wood, it s done. High winds surely didn't help any either. That old pine while very beautiful and sturdy is a serious fire hazard. Most people would be amazed at how many structures around here have that in them. The city of New Bern is full of them and I suspect Washington, Beaufort and Greenville are too.
  • by tug Location: EASTERN NC on Mar 30, 2010 at 10:26 AM
    well so much for that construction company hope they had a good liability policy to cover the costs of rebuilding
  • by Anonymous on Mar 30, 2010 at 10:02 AM
    Hope that construction company has insurance.
  • by native of pittsboro on Mar 26, 2010 at 10:35 AM
    I can't believe the courthouse has burned up. Surprising seeing as there's a fire station right down the road within sight of the courthouse. I'm from Chatham County and long to move back to the area. Its a shame that such a huge landmark of Pittsboro is gone.
  • by okayheregoes on Mar 26, 2010 at 10:16 AM
    So sad! Such a beautiful clock tower. Hope that they will rebuild a replica of the original rather than destroying the quaint charm of that town.

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