Cause of Wal-Mart fire under investigation by EPD

By Julie Fann
Star Staff

One's Wal-Mart shopping experience should never be interrupted.
   That was the sentiment expressed by Wal-Mart customers around 3:30 Thursday afternoon following a fire that started in the women's apparel section.
Elizabethton Fire Chief Mike Shouse said someone set five pairs of pants on fire in the store, filling half of the building with smoke.
   "No one was injured. Some of the employees put out the fire with extinguishers before we got here," Shouse said. "We're just dealing with smoke." According to the police report, officers found a lighter on the floor near the clothing rack where the fire began.
   Police suspect the fire was started by juveniles, and criminal investigator Matt Bowers is currently reviewing surveillance tapes and conducting interviews.
   Harvey Lankford, a Wal-Mart store greeter, said he wasn't aware anything was going on until a man approached him asking for glasses of water from the cafeteria.
   "He asked for two glasses of water and said there was a fire in the building somewhere. He took 'em and went walking off towards women's clothing," Lankford said.
   Employees and customers had to evacuate the building for approximately one hour. Many individuals weren't exactly pleased with the inconvenience. "Guess I'll have to come back another day," said one frowning man who came to the store in search of some fishing lures.
   Diane Palmer, of Johnson City, wasn't happy either. "Shoot. I'm looking for some clear floor mats for my car, and they didn't have them at the Johnson City store. They only cost $7.98. Could someone find them for me?" she said.
   Another woman stood with her daughter outside the store waiting to go inside. "I'm from Michigan. I guess I had to come all the way down here to get some excitement," she said. "I really want to be shopping, though."
   The Elizabethton Wal-Mart employs approximately 200 people. The investigation is ongoing.