by ANDY SEVILLA
The cause of a blaze that burned down the Ace Hardware in Wimberley Friday night will remain undetermined due to the amount of damage to the property, investigators said Tuesday night.
Hays County Fire Marshal Mark Chambers said no evidence of wrongdoing or criminal activity was found during the investigation, and the building has now been released to the owner.
“The exact cause of the fire will remain undetermined due to the extensive damage to the property caused in part by the collapse of the roof and fire that smoldered for some 24 hours underneath the collapsed roof,” Chambers said through county spokesperson Laureen Chernow.
The fire resulted in a complete loss of the building, Chambers said Monday. He estimated the damage at $3 million.
“It was a very sad night in Wimberley, TX as a local landmark and business burned to the ground,” Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley wrote on his Facebook page. “Ace Hardware is my wife’s and daughter’s favorite store and loved by all in Wimberley.”
The fire started after closing hours and there were no injuries, according to Chambers, who ruled out the possibility of arson in a Monday morning interview.
Investigators were unable to assess the damage over the weekend because the structure was too hot, Chambers said, and, on Monday, the gusty winds caused the investigation task force to suspend operations because of unsafe conditions due to blowing debris, according to Hays County Assistant Fire Marshal Clint Browning.
Conley, who said he was at the scene from 10 p.m. Friday until 4 a.m. Saturday, grappled with questions that confounded him as he observed the blaze and first-responders.
“Many thoughts ran through my head as I witnessed this tragedy,” Conley wrote. “Will the fire be contained without any more damage being done to our town? What about all the local people that work there and the impact this will have on their lives and our community? This business had become a landmark in our town. How will the owners feel to witness years of hard work burn down in a single night?”
The Ace Hardware store was the number three employer in Wimberley, and number one in terms of gross sales, according to Chambers.
“How will the City of Wimberley be affected, as Ace Hardware had become their largest sales tax generator – which is the only revenue going into the City of Wimberley,” Conley asked.
And in an about-face, Conley said he pondered on the positive aspects of the night as he drove home.
“No one was hurt,” Conley wrote. “No other structures caught fire in our town – we were fortunate it was not a windy night … Initial reports were also showing that there was likely no negative impact to our creeks and river.”
Conley found solace after speaking to the owners, as they informed him proper plans and investments were in place to ensure that the full-time employees would be ok and that rebuilding was in their future plans, he said.
Six area fire departments – Wimberley, North Hays, Buda, Kyle, South Hays and San Marcos – responded to the call, which came in just before 10 p.m. according to the Hays County Sheriff’s Office. Chambers said the Hays County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) was also on hand Friday night, helping to support first responders.
“The men and women from across the entire county did a fantastic job protecting the area – every fire department in Hays County responded and our Wimberley fire chief drove all the way from Houston when he received the news,” Conley wrote.
Kim Hilsenbeck contributed to this report.