Two fires are under active investigation at Coker Enterprises after a second building caught fire early Monday morning just two weeks after the first blaze destroyed the business’s office.
Smith County Fire Marshal Jay Brooks said due to the circumstances of the fires at Coker Enterprises, located at 7106 U.S. Highway 271 North in Tyler, both events are being treated as crime scenes.
The call for Monday’s blaze came out at around 6 a.m. for an active fire in Coker Enterprises’ tractor workshop.
Two weeks earlier, on Sept. 30, the office area and a room housing trailer parts was destroyed by fire. At the time, officials said the cause remained unknown.
“We are processing this as a crime scene. That’s just protocol at this point; we don’t have enough to say this isn’t an arson attempt or an incendiary fire,” Brooks said. “However, we’re going to go ahead and treat it as such.”
Owner Steve Coker said Monday seeing another portion of his business catch fire was very unusual and leads him to think it could be more than a fire starting for an unknown reason.
“I’m sure it will be looked into and we will live with the results (of the investigation),” he said.
But he continues to retain some optimism.
“We remain determined to make the best of any calamity that may befall us,” Coker said.
In the tractor shop, the parts room is likely a complete loss, but there are items that are salvageable. The back half of the building was protected by a solid wall, which helped save some equipment in the back and outside, Brooks said.
“The fire seems to involve one side of the building,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a complete loss. There’s no insurance on the building, so it’s devastating to Mr. Coker.”
Brooks said his heart goes out to Coker, who has owned the business for 43 years, and his family and investigators will do their due diligence to determine the cause.
“My heart really does go out to this family because this is devastating. This is their livelihood,” Brooks said. “This is their business, and to be that close to retirement and have something like this happen, this sets them back. This is obviously going to delay their retirement.”
Brooks called it gut-wrenching to see another fire reported at Coker Enterprises in such a short time frame. The second fire made Brooks wonder what the fire marshal’s office might have missed.
“When I heard about it this morning, my level of curiosity definitely peaked,” he said. “I wanted to get out here as quickly as I could and start getting as much data as I could.”
Multiple fire departments, including Winona, Red Springs, Lindale, Chapel Hill, Jackson Heights and units with Smith County Emergency Services District No. 2, worked together to get the fire under control.
Every deputy within the Smith County Fire Marshal’s Office is assisting in the investigation alongside the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Brooks said.
The Smith County Sheriff’s Office crime scene unit assisted with processing evidence and Tyler Police Department helped with traffic control on the highway.
Brooks said the layout of the building made the response difficult, but the fire was extinguished. The next step is to go through the building to make sure there’s no remaining fire.
Brooks said the fire marshal’s office will conduct a slow and methodical investigation.
After firefighters leave the fire scene, the fire marshal’s office will come in for its investigation to determine the causes of the fires.
Brooks said the investigators will look into everything to find as much data as possible.
“The more evidence we have the better our case will be,” Brooks said. “We’re going to be here until we have what we need. We’ll be here as long as it takes.”
Regarding the Sept. 30 fire, Brooks said the fire marshal’s office believed that fire was not suspicious based on alarm data. But after looking at the alarm further, Brooks said it’s possible a person could have come in without setting off the initial door alarms.
As the investigation continues, Brooks said more information will be released as it becomes available.