'Suspicious' fire destroys supply building for homeless shelter agency

Norton and Wise fire crews tackled a blaze Thursday at Family Crisis Support Services Red Barn supply building on Kentucky Avenue in the Ramsey section of Norton.

NORTON — A Thursday afternoon fire destroyed the main clothing storage building for a homeless and victim shelter agency.

The Norton Fire Department and backup crews from the Wise Fire Department responded to a 3:30 p.m. call at the Red Barn storage building in the Ramsey section of Norton. The structure had been discovered burning by a Norton Public Works employee, according to firefighter and Public Works Director Steve McElroy.

Norton Fire Chief Todd Lagow said fire crews searched for anyone inside the building, but they found no one before flames forced them out of the structure. Lagow said crews then adopted a defensive position to contain the blaze.

He said the building was a total loss.

“It’s certainly suspicious,” Lagow said of the fire, giving no details.

Norton Police Chief James Lane said he and investigators would discuss details of the fire with Lagow before making a decision on whether to ask for assistance from Virginia State Police arson investigators.

One firefighter was taken to Norton Community Hospital for treatment for heat exhaustion while two other department members were treated at the scene, Lagow said.

Family Crisis Support Services Director Marybeth Adkins said that everything inside the building was a total loss, but several plastic-sealed bundles of clothing just outside the structure might be salvageable.

The building over the past five decades had been a fabric store and flea market before Family Crisis acquired it in 1999, Adkins said. It was used to store clothing and shoes for clients sheltered by FCCS, Adkins said, and also held donated merchandise for the agency’s Red Barn fundraising thrift stores.

“This was the hub,” Adkins said as she watched fire crews spray hot spots through a 10-foot hole in the building’s metal roof. “It’ll impact the people we serve.”

Adkins said FCCS was about to turn the building into more of a furniture storage site while clothing would be sent to other FCCS sites.

“I’m heartbroken,” Adkins said. “I look at the building and, like, all the good.”

Adkins said the building was insured.