Investigator calls barn fire suspicious

Clovis fire officials ruled out accidental causes for a Sunday barn fire. CNJ staff photo: Loretta Kos.

Ryan Lengerich

A fire investigator said Sunday’s blaze that destroyed a barn and burned one firefighter in northwest Clovis is “suspicious.”
“Basically, we ruled out any probability of accidental cause,” said Lt. Mike Leatherwood of the Clovis Fire Department. “There was some electricity in the area but it wasn’t what you would call consistent with an electrical fire.”
Leatherwood said the investigation has been turned over to Clovis police who will interview witnesses.
Lt. Monty Powell was sent to Plains Regional Medical Center with second-degree burns on his left hand resulting from a flame burst that touched his skin as he was putting on his glove.
Powell was treated and released.
Leatherwood investigated the fire Monday morning to determine the origin and the cause of the fire on Clovis’ Jones Street. He said there were no stoves, appliances or cigarettes to cause the fire and the only power outlet in the structure was ruled out as a potential cause.
Leatherwood said the fire started in the back of the barn and damaged two nearby barns, also igniting roof shingles on a neighboring house. Firefighters prevented serious damage to all the surrounding structures including the owner’s house about 15 feet from the barn.
Inside the barn, paint cans, gasoline and propane exploded as the fire burned.
Clovis’ police dispatch office reported multiple 911 calls were received in connection with the fire, the first at 4:06 p.m. Leatherwood said it took nine minutes for firefighters to begin putting water on the flames, which he said was a quick response.
A crowd watched the fire burn from the sidewalk and the streets became crowded with drivers following the smoke, which could be seen for miles. Leatherwood reached the scene from the fire station on the 600 block of Llano Estacado.
“Traffic was horrible,” he said. “Everybody had seen the smoke and there was people pulled over. You would have thought we hit rush hour on Prince Street on our way there.”
Clovis Fire Chief Ron Edwards said it is likely fire crews’ response times were slowed by those stopped to gaze at the flames.
“A lot of people want to follow the red lights and the smoke and that can cause us a delay,” Edwards said. “We encourage people to stay out of the area. We have trouble getting through to handle the situation and next time it may be them or their property.”