Loudon County’s historic courthouse fire displaces employees, cause under investigation

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COVER PHOTO_Loudon Co courthouse day after fire image_WATE_0424_1556138356077.jpg.jpg

LOUDON, Tenn. (WATE) – Officials are looking at what the next steps are the day after the historic Loudon County courthouse caught fire, and when court proceedings will begin again.

For several hours through the night and into the next morning, firefighters stayed on the scene of the historic Loudon County Courthouse, which caught fire Tuesday evening. No injuries were reported. 

     Previous Story | Historic Loudon County Courthouse catches fire, may be a total loss

On Wednesday morning and afternoon, the area was still blocked off, one reason being work was still being done while the other reason centered on safety concerns. 

The fire took several hours to extinguish and wasn’t considered fully out until Wednesday. The mayor and fire chief say they believe it was an electrical issue that may have started in the attic, but they are waiting for confirmation from the fire marshal.

The Loudon city fire chief saying there were at one point Tuesday night at least 55 firefighters at the scene, with several staying throughout the night and into the early morning. 

A few firefighters had to be treated for heat exhaustion. 

Few people have gone into the historic building because of safety concerns. The mayor said the bottom floor of the courthouse was waist-high in water. 

     More | Loudon County Courthouse: Fire damages one of East Tennessee’s most historic buildings

There’s also one part of the courthouse that caused concerns for both firefighters last night, as well as for the community on Wednesday: The bell tower. 

A structural engineer is expected to come within the next few days to determine how safe the inside of the courthouse is, and, once it’s safe, crews can go in and begin sifting through the damage.

Loudon County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said he has already sat down with department heads to figure out what the next steps will be once the building is safe enough to go inside.

Bradshaw said the courthouse wasn’t just a building for the community. Hundreds of special moments took place inside and on the lawn.

“We’re gonna rebuild. Make no doubt about it. We will rebuild and we rebuild better and at the end of this stuff we’ll be better for it,” Bradshaw said.

Court proceedings to temporarily relocate

As far as court proceedings, the state says the court services for Loudon County will reopen in a temporary location on Monday, April 29. The historic courthouse was still active on the circuit, with civil, criminal ad chancery court sessions for the county – until Tuesday evening’s fire. 

Here are the new court proceedings’ temporary locations: 

  • Loudon County Clerk and Master and Loudon County Circuit Court Clerk will be relocated, and many basic court procedures including motions and hearings will be heard, at the old Loudon City Hall, located at 201 Alma Place, Loudon, starting April 29.  
  • Jury trials will be held in the new Loudon City Municipal Building, located at 2480 Highway 72 North, Loudon.
  • Child support hearings will be held at the Loudon County Justice Center, located at 12680 Highway 11 in Lenoir City, on Fridays until further notice.  
  • In addition, criminal court the week of April 29 – May 3 will also be held in the Loudon County Justice Center. Starting May 6, criminal court will also be held at the old Loudon City Hall building.

“The loss of our courthouse is devastating for this community,” said Judge Michael S. Pemberton, who serves the 9th judicial district as a circuit court judge. “But, it is amazing how the courts, law enforcement, county, and city officials have come together over the past 12 hours to make a plan to keep the courtroom doors open. This is going to be a long road, but I am confident we can continue to serve the people of Loudon County.”
Both the Loudon County Circuit Court Clerk and Loudon County Clerk & Master offices, which are charged with maintaining court records, were located in the historic courthouse.

“Firefighters made a valiant effort to remove the court’s computer servers, which had been backed up. An initial review by the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts shows the servers do not appear to have suffered fire, smoke, or water damage,” the state said. “Records that were maintained electronically, including the circuit court case management system, were saved.”

However, other records, including paper items submitted as evidence in court or paper records filed in chancery court, may have been damaged by fire, smoke, or water.

The process to salvage as many paper records as possible is ongoing; especially since the building hasn’t been cleared to enter safely by a structural engineer, but that’s expected to happen in the coming days. 

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