A structure fire destroyed the longstanding Wise County Museum early Saturday morning.
Just after midnight, fire crews responded to the report of a structure fire on the south side of the city in the 1600 block of South Trinity Street, according to Decatur Fire Department.
Upon arriving, crews reported a three-story heavy timber building with smoke coming from one side. Units quickly forced entry and took hand lines to the first and then second floor. A Fire Captain on the second floor reported heavy heat and smoke conditions with visibility nearing zero.
As additional fire units arrived, they stretched hand and supply lines in support of suppression the fire conditions changed rapidly. The aggressive change in fire and smoke forced numerous fire crews from the second floor to the first then immediately out the front door.
Decatur Fire says heavy fire and smoke conditions ravaged the historical stone building for the next two hours as mutual aid aerial units were called to tamp the flames.
The fire ultimately destroyed the three-story building which was built and first occupied in the spring of 1893.
The latest news from around North Texas.
Joe Lewis was among several long-time Wise County residents who came to take pictures of the damage and reflect on all that was lost.
“I’m just devastated. This is a tragedy, a real tragedy. And to think of all the historic artifacts that are lost forever," said Lewis.
Lewis pointed to records from the Wise County Messenger and artifacts from the 'Lost Battalion.'
At a press conference Saturday, the museum's director said it held the largest collection of memorabilia dating back to that WWII battalion, made up of North Texans, that were captured and held prisoners by Japan for 42 months.
Gordon Saunders was devastated by the loss of a horse-drawn hearse that occupied the museum's first floor for years.
Saunders drove over from Arlington to see the rubble.
He grew up in Decatur and attended Decatur Baptist College back when it occupied the building.
Later, the school relocated to Dallas where it became Dallas Baptist University, and Saunders moved, too.
Still, he said he and his wife came back once a month for the gospel performances held in the museum's auditorium.
"The wife and I would drive up for that singing, and we would just enjoy the music once a month, and it’s all gone," said Saunders.
No one was in the building at the time of the fire and there were no injuries reported by first responders. The cause of the fire has yet to be determined.
According to Decatur fire, nearby City of Decatur Police and Development Services buildings sustained smoke and odor damage.