Harrison County

Road closed after fire destroys Vieux Marche businesses (Updated 10:30 a.m.)

Fire investigators have taken over the scene of last night's blaze that destroyed three businesses in Vieux Marche, where three businesses, including one of Biloxi's oldest night clubs, were destroyed.

Howard Avenue, which runs one-way through Vieux Marche mall, remains closed, though most of the businesses were able to open this morning.

Fire Department Battalion Chief Joe Boney said the fire most likely started at Adventures Bar and Grill, where people inside escaped without injuries. The fire department was called two minutes before midnight.

The blaze also destroyed the Upstairs-Downstairs lounge, which had been in business more than 30 years, and Spanish Trail Books as the heat pushed firefighters out of those businesses.

“We had to do a defensive attack from the outside,” Boney said.

The building that housed the three businesses had pine flooring over 100 years old.

“With the fire load to begin with, and such an old construction with heavy timber and wood floors, well-seasoned and well-dried, it was prime to have a very large fire,” Boney said. “We haven't had a fire of this magnitude in quite a few years."

About 25 firefighters fought the blaze using three ladder trucks and four pumpers. At one point, fire officials notified neighboring fire departments for possible help if another fire broke out elsewhere in the city.

“The good thing is nobody was injured,” Boney said.

Firefighters stayed on the scene over night, putting out hot spots, and a new shift of firefighters came on duty at 6:45 a.m.

Power company workers arrived later this morning to restore power to surrounding businesses. Most of the businesses will be able to re-open this morning, Boney said.

There's no word yet on what caused the blaze. Boney said investigators took over the scene around 8 a.m. They plan to walk through the remains if it's safe enough to move about.

The road, which runs one-way through the mall, will remain closed to traffic today.

“The building is too unstable to allow people to drive or walk around,” Boney said.

Two parking lots near Biloxi Regional Medical Center also are closed.

The hospital has an office near the destroyed businesses. That office and a Subway sandwich shop may not re-open immediately, Boney said.

Mike Hutter owns the adjoining buildings that housed Upstairs-Downs and Spanish Trail books, which he and his wife, Pat, had operated at that locaton for 15 years. The book store featured rare books and old Biloxi postcards and pictures.

Glenn Mattina Jr. had recently taken over the lounge, first owned by his father, and had completed renovations.

“He's like us, heart-sick,” Hutter said.

Mattina could not be reached for comment.

The building that housed Adventures is owned by Alan Mallory of Christiansted, according to the city planning department. It wasn't immediately clear if Mallory also owns the bar and grill.

“It's a terrible blow for the city and for the historic business district in particular,” city spokesman Vincent Creel said.

Check back for updates at sunherald.com.