Fire Chief Surprised to Find Elberta Investigation Closed by State

Chief Corely walks the rubble.
Chief Corely walks the rubble.

One week after battling an all-night blaze, firefighters in one community are annoyed at what they call an abrupt end to the investigation. The fire happened last week in downtown Lyons in Toombs County.

Last Tuesday night, the Elberta building went up in flames taking apartments and offices with it. Last night, the state fire marshal told us we may never know what happened and the Lyons fire chief wants to know why he heard it from his television before he heard from the state.

Today, a mason chipped away mortar from the bricks that were once the New Lyons Hotel. Fire Chief Darel Corley again walked through the rubble one week after the flames leveled the nearly 100-year-old building. He's surprised the state fire marshal has closed the case and shocked how he learned about it.

"We found out from watching WTOC 11 last night, watching the news," he said. "The fire marshal still hasn't called us or told us anything."

State investigators looked around last Wednesday through still-smoldering ashes and embers and promised to return this week. But Corley hasn't seen them since.

The fire destroyed downtown office space and upstairs apartments. The state marshal told WTOC Tuesday they may never know the cause.

The city didn't want to investigate the fire because the building still belonged to Lyons. The city's Better Hometown board had leased it to a developer for renovation.

"We were hoping the whole issue would be settled and cleanup could be started," said Corley. "You see what the deal is here, we're still waiting."

Corley says the next move hinges on the developer's insurance company to look any further for what turned a landmark to piles of salvage brick in search of a new home.

The fire is a financial and sentimental loss. Local legend has it everyone from Margaret Mitchell to Al Capone stayed there and Gabby Hayes died there.

No word on what the city will do with the property.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com