Sherman Fire-Rescue officials are investigating suspicious, back-to-back fires that drew crews to the Woodmen Circle Home on Monday night and again on Tuesday afternoon.
Fire Marshal Danny Fuller said crews first responded to the abandoned property, which sits on the northeast corner of the intersection between State Highway 56 and FM 1417, at approximately 9 p.m. Monday. Fuller said the flames broke out in a portion of the building which used to serve as a library.
“All that was burning were some alterations that had been made to the building, sometime in the last 60 years and some wooden door frames and trim,” Fuller said.
The marshal said crews were able to extinguish the flames relatively quickly, but fencing around the property and the building’s distance from the roadway initially made it difficult to get vehicles and water within range of the fire.
“Crews had to lay several hundred feet of large-diameter hose up to the building,” Fuller said. “They had an issue with getting into the property and close to the building in order to extinguish it.”
Fuller said he hadn’t completely ruled out the possibility that a lightning strike started Monday night’s fire, but from his initial review of the scene, he felt it was more likely that the fire was started by someone inside.
The Woodmen Circle Home was built in the 1920s and served as a residence for orphaned children and widows for roughly 40 years. The fraternal organization that ran the facility abandoned the 15-acre site in the 1970s and since then, ownership of the complex has changed several times. Although the property is supposed to be unoccupied, Fuller said he understood that its dilapidated red-brick buildings are sometimes used by homeless individuals for shelter and as a site for vandals to paint graffiti.
Fuller said crews were dispatched to the home again on Tuesday afternoon after a different area of the main structure caught fire.
“I did find evidence of there being occupants inside at that time,” Fuller said. “So, we’re actively pursuing information and we’re trying to figure out who was there, when and why.”
The fire marshal said those who venture inside the property are not only placing themselves in danger but first responders too.
“Our biggest issue with this particular building is that it is in such bad shape,” Fuller said. “It’s really dangerous for us as firefighters to make any kind of attempt to access because of the instability. It’s dangerous for anybody to be in there. Whether you’re looking for a place to get out of the rain, or you’re in there to paint graffiti or just on a dare, it’s not a good idea.”