Owner says he brought fire code violations down

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May 7, 2007

AUGUSTA, Ga.---It could be a few days before we know what caused a devastating fire that destroyed the main building of the South Augusta Flea Market, but the owner says he's going to do his best to work with authorities to find out what happened.

While investigators say it's too early to pinpoint the cause, owner Dusty Rhodes says this is just another issue he has to add to the list of troubles he's had with the building.

Dozens of code violations are the main issues Rhodes has had to face over the past two years. But now he's faced with a bigger problem: the fire that burned one of his buildings to the ground.

"If I knew what happened, I'd gladly tell you...but nobody knows, it seems," Rhodes told News 12.

Rhodes tried to keep his sense of humor as he spoke with us, but he says his problems with the flea market building started long before it went up in smoke. He says he's been trying for a while now to bring the building up to code.

"There was 54 violations two years ago," he said. "We had corrected all but two, which was a sprinkler alarm to be put in the building. We have no water. You can't put a sprinkler alarm."

But a sprinkler alarm system may have helped firefighters put out the fire much more quickly. Lt. Neal Brown says it took more time to put out the flames because of the distance to the nearest hydrant.

"The closest one is down the road about a quarter mile," Lt. Brown said. "Our biggest challenge was the water problem with the hydrant being so far off. Once they started the initial attack on the fire, one of the main lines, one of the hoses blowed out, which caused a problem."

Rhodes says he's worked on the violations, but he's not sure if anything could have been done to prevent this morning's fire.

"I done everything I can, but I can't pay to run a water line down Doug Barnard Parkway," he said.

"They were scheduled for court Wednesday for some violations they had," Lt. Brown said.

"They wanted me to put a funnel shaped for a fire exit, walled it in, and I disagreed and I had went to court and got a 30 day delay for an architect to design it," Rhodes said. "That's why I'm going back Thursday to see what the outcome will be."

Investigators are not even offering a preliminary cause yet. They say it could take two or three days to make a determination.

We're told there were space heaters throughout the building, but authorities are not linking them to the fire at this time.

Some of the vendors called our newsroom to say that there are other buildings on the property and they plan to be there and open for business this weekend.

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