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Gym Fire Photo

Top Stories

Tuesday, April 6, 1999

Explosion, fire destroy W. Pecos Gym

By ROSIE FLORES
and
JON FULBRIGHT
Staff Writer
PECOS, April 6, 1999 -- An explosion and fire destroyed the Old West Pecos Gym on West Third Street Monday night, and officials are continuing to investigate the cause of the blaze.

The fire broke out about 7:55 p.m. Monday following the explosion, which blew out the brick wall on the east side of the building and sent flames and debris out the windows on the west side of the gym.

"There was nothing and then it just went `boom' and flames shot over to that building," said one nearby resident, pointing to the arts building, just to the west of the gym.

"There's lumber and everything over there," said volunteer fireman Weldon Brookshire. "When we got here all the fire was concentrated on this (west) end."

Heavy smoke poured out of windows at that end of the building, where a weight room was located when the building was being used by the Pecos Community Recreation Department. The gym also contained a basketball court and racquetball courts, as well as an upstairs studio area on the west end of the building.

All fire units were called out to the blaze, which quickly spread throughout the mostly wooden structure. Firemen were forced back from the building due to intense heat and flames after the roof collapsed about 8:30 p.m. The wood upper side panels followed, and most of the gym's lower brick walls on the Third Street side would collapse shortly before 9 p.m., as firemen continued to pour water on the flames.

Fire Marshal Jack Brookshire said Monday night it could not yet be determined if the fire was the result of arson. State fire marshals were scheduled to be in Pecos today to help with the investigation.

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD Superintendent Don Love praised the valiant efforts of the fireman. "They did an outstanding job and we really appreciate their efforts," said Love.

He added that thanks to their efforts a building located next to the gym, which houses offices for two school administrators, was saved.

"They managed to keep the roof wet on that building and basically saved it from burning," said Love. "I'm sure it sustained some smoke damage, but that was all."

Love said the building at the corner of Fourth and Park streets houses offices for the Pecos School Transportation Director Dora Villanueva and the school maintenance director Joe Coody.

Their building was without power this morning after Texas-New Mexico Power Co. crews cut electricity to the block Monday night. Employees were trying to restore the electricity and clear out the smoke out of that building this morning.

The arts building, to the west of the gym, also was saved from the fire. That building is being used as a training facility by the Pecos-Barstow Warbirds boxing team.

Love said the school district would have to hold a special meeting and declare the burned building as condemned.

"We'll have to take it before the board and say there's nothing salvageable in there and authorize disposal," said Love.

The gym was over 50 years old, and had not been in regular use for the past eight years. Problems with the building's wooden rafters led Brookshire to order it closed in December of 1990.

Old school desks and items no longer of any value to the school district were being stored inside.

"There was nothing really that was of any value to the district, but school business is a little different and we couldn't just throw these items away, we would have to bid them out and follow the appropriate procedure," said Love.

He added that the building itself was not valuable either, but held sentimental value to many in the community, including himself.

The gym was not insured, because it was not insurable. "I think the reason it wasn't insurable is because of structural damage, it was really not safe to be in and out of," said Love.

Love said while it had been ordered closed in 1990, the gym had not been torn down, because a few years back when the board tried to dispose of it, the cost for tearing it down was about $25,000.

The bus barn, where all Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD buses including the Pecos Eagle Buses used for out-of-town trips were not damaged.

"The buses were moved out of the way, we had a lot of help in doing that," said Love. The barn is located to the west of the arts building.

He praised the entire community for coming together and getting the situation under control. "We had a lot of help last night from the people in Pecos, they're outstanding folks," he said.

"And of course, again, the firefighters did a great job, it was a lot of work and they saved the other building," said Love. "They did a super job and I just want to thank them again."

Onlookers spotted smoke prior to gym's explosion

By PEGGY McCRACKEN
Staff Writer
PECOS, April 6, 1999 -- Mari Maldonado spotted smoke billowing out the windows of the old West Pecos  gymnasium across the street from her Fourth Street home just before 8 p.m. Monday.

Shortly thereafter, an explosion sent a plume of smoke and debris high into the air, and debris thudded against the art club building to the west of the old, condemned gym.

Maldonado was one of several neighbors who called 9-1-1 to report the fire. Police dispatcher Diane Tersero said the first call came in at 7:56 p.m.

Black smoke curled upward and southeast across the residential area, as flames licked through the tin roof, creating an eerie, sparkly green sight across its length.

Judy Clark and her children were just leaving home when they noticed the smoke and heard the explosion as a ball of fire shot up into the air and noted the green sparkles.

John and Robert Cravey were among the first to arrive at the scene, after hearing the explosion and seeing the ball of fire. John Cravey stood by with the Pecos Ambulance Service in case medical assistance was needed.

They, too, commented on the eerie green display.

Ambulance Chief Bill Cole said that two units were at the scene until 9 p.m. when he sent one home, and he left about 10:30 p.m.. They treated one fireman with oxygen and he went back to work, Cole said.

Off-duty police and sheriff's deputies were summoned to control traffic around the burning gym, as onlookers circled or parked their vehicles, hampering firemen getting trucks in and hooking up to a fireplug.

Individuals gathered in groups near the hot, bright-orange fire that burned into the night.

Firemen aimed their large hose at the west end of the building, where thick black smoke billowed from the windows, while others shot streams of water from various locations, including a bucket truck high above the flames.

The roof caved in about dark, then the walls began to fall, leaving burning timbers silhouetted against the night sky.

Bill Hubbs, who was in the gym a week after it was built on the former Pecos Army Airfield in the 1940s, looked over the burned-out hull this morning, noting that only part of the west wall was left standing.

He said the original building had built-in wooden bleachers with varnish on the natural wood.

"It was beautiful," he said. "The military went first class."

A handball court, snack bar, weight room and gym equipment outfitted the interior.

"My Dad bought the parallel bars and gave them to the school," Hubbs said.

Hubbs' father, Barney Hubbs, published the Pecos Enterprise when the gym was in use at the Airbase.

"I sold newspapers out there every Friday," he said. "I had a table set up in front of the gym and had a cigar box to put money in. I was never shorted a nickel."

Hubbs clearly remembers when the school district trucked the gym from the Airbase north on the Balmorhea Highway and down Third Street (then U.S. Highway 80) to its present location at Third and Park Streets.

Blaze kept firemen at site overnight

By PEGGY McCRACKEN
Staff Writer
PECOS, April 6, 1999 -- Pecos Fire Department Chief Roy Pena and his crew left the West Pecos Gymnasium fire at 4:30 a.m., and he got home about 5 a.m. after checking the smoldering embers one more time and alerting police to watch for flames.

Then he took a shower and went to bed, sleeping until shortly before noon.

Pena said that all the firemen responded to the call, except for one safety officer who was out of town. They trained a deck gun on the roof of the gym and had 2 1/2" and 1 1/2" lines applying water from several directions.

Two trucks sprayed a curtain of water over the two buildings just south of the gym to keep them from catching fire, he said.

With so many spectators parking cars along the streets, firemen had some trouble getting to a fire hydrant in the next block, he said.

"They sent some officers and made way for the truck to get in," Pena said.

Because the building was condemned, Pena said the crew did not attempt to enter the burning gym, but trained water on the roof until it caved in.

The wooden floor of the basketball court was burning, so firemen had fire underfoot and overhead at the same time. Then the roof caved in, and they were able to get water to the interior.

"We had to call the city to get some help on a front-end loader and backhoe," he said. "They turned it and moved it a little bit so we could get to it," he said.

Texas-New Mexico Power Co. helped out with a bucket truck, allowing firemen to get above the burning walls and train streams of water inside the building.

The building had electric power and water, which T-NMP and city crews disconnected, Pena said.

Pena said he heard one explosion, maybe two, after arriving at the fire, but he didn't know what exploded.

"Our main concern was the two buildings on the south side," he said.

Neither of them caught fire, and none of the firemen were hurt. "We are professionals," he said.

City council to discuss gang concerns at meeting

By PEGGY McCRACKEN
Staff Writer
PECOS, April 6, 1999 -- Gang awareness is one topic to be considered by the Pecos City Council in their regular meeting Thursday.

Juvenile gang activity is on the increase and has turned violent in recent months, the council noted in their last meeting.

Also arising out of the last meeting is the issue of truck parking in residential areas. The council will consider adopting an ordinance prohibiting such parking.

They will consider on second reading three ordinances relating to the enterprise zone and tax abatement; an engineering agreement with Frank X. Spencer on the water well project; a tri-agency agreement with Reeves County and Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD for restoration of the athletic track; hear a recommendation from the Type IV landfill committee; and consider policies regarding excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies during civil rights demonstrations.

Elections coordinator Debra Thomas will present certification that council candidates are unopposed in the May 1 election, and the council will approve an order declaring the three candidates elected.

The council meets at 7:30 a.m. in council chambers, and the public is welcome.

WIPP awaits second truck with N-waste

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) A second shipment of radioactive waste destined for a nuclear repository near Carlsbad was en route from Los Alamos National Laboratory this morning.

State police Lt. Juan Ontiveros said the shipment got under way around 12:15 a.m., bound for them'' at one Santa Fe intersection along the bypass route designed to keep the waste from crossing through the city. He said it took the slow-moving truck an hour to get from the lab to the WIPP bypass route. The truck stays mainly on U.S. 285 from the Santa Fe area to Carlsbad.

The first WIPP shipment of transuranic waste passed through Santa Fe late March 25. Transuranic waste, including such material as gloves, tools and protective clothing worn by nuclear workers, is generally regarded as low- to moderate-level radioactive waste.

Dan Balduini, spokesman for the WIPP, said Monday that officials expected to see fewer demonstrators along the route than the numbers that turned out for the maiden voyage.

A total of 17 truckloads are expected at a rate of about one a week among initial Los Alamos shipments.

"There was so much to-do about the first one, you don't know what to think about the rest," Balduini said. "It's going to take a dozen or so shipments until it becomes routine."

Last Thursday, Santa Fe Mayor Larry Delgado sent a letter to Keith Klein, acting DOE director in Carlsbad, outlining terms the city wanted included in an agreement concerning shipments to and from Los Alamos.

Santa Fe's request asks that shipments of transuranic waste pass only on the Santa Fe bypass route and only on weekdays between 1 and 5 a.m. or under special circumstances approved by the city manager.

In the proposed deal, shipments would not be allowed through town during holidays or bad weather, and the DOE would have to pay costs of police escorts for the waste trucks.

Editorial page moved back a day

PECOS, April 6, 1999 -- Due to coverage of Monday's fire that destroyed the West Pecos Gym, the Enterprise's editorial page, which normally runs on Tuesdays, will instead appear in Wednesday's paper this week.

Friday is filing deadline for crop loss disaster aid

PECOS, April 6, 1999 -- Friday is the last day to sign up for crop loss disaster assistance at the Reeves County Farm Service Agency.

The deadline will not be extended past Friday, said a spokesman for the FSA office.

The policy on multi-year eligibility determinations has changed.

Under the new policy, a producer is eligible for multi-year benefits if he or she received any combination of three years of payments under crop insurance, NAP and 1994 ad-hoc disaster.

Producers with a multi-year CCC-540 (application) on file will not need to submit a new application.

Producers who have not previously applied for multi-year benefits must complete a CCC-540 before COB April 9.

Lotto

AUSTIN (AP) Results of the Cash 5 drawing Monday night: Winning numbers drawn: 2-13-22-34-36. Number matching five of five: 2. Prize per winner: $43,609. Winning tickets sold in: Longview, Rowlett. Matching four of five: 283. Prize: $463.

***

AUSTIN (AP) The winning Pick 3 numbers drawn Monday by the Texas Lottery, in order: 7-7-1 (seven, seven, one)

Obituary

Ceasar `Chayo' Nevarez

Funeral Services for Ceasar "Chayo" Nevarez were held Thursday, April 1, 1999 at Our Lady Of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Clovis, Calif. Nevarez, 55, was a former Pecos resident. He died March 28, 1999.

Survivors includes his wife of 39 Years, Delia Nevarez; his sons, Danny Nevarez and Ceasar Nevarez Jr.; two daughters, Virginia Nevarez and Susan Gaona; his parents, Pilar Nevarez Sr. of Fresno, Calif., and Sara Orona of Fresno, Calif.; two brothers, Pilar Nevarez Jr., and Robert Nevarez, both of Fresno, Calif.; two sisters, Corina Hernandez and Aurora Hernandez, both of Fresno, Calif., nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Weather

PECOS, April 6, 1999 -- High Monday 75; low last night 39. Tonight, fair. Low around 50. Southeast wind 5-10 mph. Wednesday, partly cloudy. High 80-85. Southeast wind 5-10 mph becoming south 10-20 mph and gusty in the afternoon.



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