The big fire
I t hardly seems possible but on Tuesday we will observe the 10th anniversary of one of Rockdale’s signature fires, the Dec. 11, 2002, blaze that permanently changed the configuration of a downtown block.
At 5:58 that morning, Citizens National Bank’s cleaning man discovered the bank was full of smoke. The Rockdale Volunteer Fire Department rushed to the scene.
The bank wasn’t on fire but three-story Arledge Antiques next door was, a blaze which had probably been smoldering for hours and was super-hot. It had already spread to Ballard Carpets Etc. on the other side.
For most of 12 hours Rockdale’s firefighters were on the scene. The Arledge and Ballard buildings collapsed but the RVFD saved the rest of the block. That’s right. The entire block could have been lost if not for our firefighters.
Many of those rushing to the fire as the sun rose that morning remember coming around the corner of Ackerman and Cameron, looking up and seeing thick black smoke pouring out of the eaves of the bank.
And their hearts sank. It appeared nothing could stop the fire from taking all the buildings between Ackerman and Main.
But something did. The Rockdale VFD. There were some close calls. Two volunteers were on the roof of what was then Southwest Milam Water when Ballard Carpets Etc. next door collapsed, sending burning debris into the air.
Ten years later there’s still a “hole” in the block where those two historic buildings, constructed before the turn of the 20th Century, used to be.
That’s not good. But don’t ever forget, there’s still a block there to have a hole in it because of the dedication, and the heroic efforts, of Rockdale’s volunteer firefighters.
It’s not the first major fire in Rockdale’s history—far from it—and not the first time our volunteer firefighters have been there when they were needed.
It would be nice to think Dec. 11, 2002, would be Rockdale’s last major fire. It won’t be. But we can be sure of something.
At the next one, whether it’s tomorrow or 10 more years, the Rockdale VFD will be there. Again.—M.B.