Authorities will begin an investigation today into the cause of a huge fire that destroyed approximately 20 structures in an area known as The Mountain on the First Monday Trade Days grounds at Canton on Saturday.

"We will re-enter the place Sunday. The state fire marshal's office along with assisting agencies will come in and do a thorough investigation and try to determine the cause," Canton Fire Chief Bud Sanford said on Saturday night.

A Canton police officer on patrol happened to see the flames and notified the Canton Fire Department at 3:48 a.m. Saturday.

The fire department has a combination of part-time and volunteer staff and had an on-duty crew at the station when the call came in.

"We called for assistance immediately from neighboring fire departments," Sanford said.

Altogether, 17 agencies responded, including police, fire and emergency medical service vehicles, Sanford said.

Besides the Canton Fire Department, other agencies that responded included the Van Zandt County fire marshal, the state fire marshal and several fire departments including Van, Grand Saline, South Van Zandt and Wills Point.

"When I arrived there, we had an abundance of fire … a very intense fire … that had already engulfed several buildings," Sanford said. He estimated flames were shooting 70 feet into the air.

The Mountain on U.S. Highway 64 is a novelty, Western style network of buildings that house bed and breakfast establishments, shopping centers and places where people live.

"Before we could make an aggressive attack on the fire, we had to evacuate approximately 20 to 25 people," Sanford said. "First priority is always life. We focused our efforts at first on getting people off the hill. Canton Police Department was a huge part of that effort."

People were asleep in the buildings, and a lot of them didn't know about the fire, according to the chief.

"We evacuated them down the hill back toward the office complexes of the Old Mill Marketplace," Sanford said. There were no injuries, he added.

The Red Cross responded quickly, the chief said, providing assistance to people who lived in the structures and also providing firefighters water, coffee and Gatorade.

Firefighters were unable to drive their fire engines up to the fire because The Mountain has very tight-knit quarters with narrow pathways about the width of a golf cart, Sanford said.

"We had to place our engines on the perimeter and drag our hose into the area we were going to fight from," he said.

"We felt we had it (the fire) under control to where we could manage around 5:30 a.m.," Sanford said, and it was "well under control about 7 o'clock."

Canton firefighters had done pre-fire planning of the area throughout the past few years to be ready in case a fire ever broke out, the chief said

"I am very proud of all the agencies and all the firefighters that were involved with this fire because they completed a mission that was unreal. They stopped a fire that would be a challenge for any department to stop," Sanford said.

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