Historic hospital destroyed

A blaze tore through the old Hall Bennett Hospital building — located at the intersection of Eighth Street and Goliad — Wednesday around 7:30 p.m., destroying much of the building's second floor, according to officials with the Big Spring Fire Department.The fire started on the second floor, according to Big Spring Fire Marshal Carl Condray, causing extensive fire damage to the structure and its roof, as well as water damage to the first floor.“There's no doubt, the first started on the second floor of the east wing,” Condray said. “It consumed much of the floor's roof and caused extensive structural damage throughout.”Condray said there were no active utilities in the building — built in 1928 as the Big Spring Hospital by Drs. G.T. Hall and M.H. Bennett — leading investigators to believe a human factor may have started the blaze.“We're still interviewing the witnesses and no arrests have been made at this time, but we certainly haven't ruled out a human factor in the fire,” he said. “There were lots of signs of graffiti and other criminal activity inside the building and we believe kids and homeless people were using it.“One thing I've been trying to stress during this investigation is if the fire was started by someone, that doesn't necessarily make it arson. For it to be determined to be arson, there has to be the element of intent. If the fire was started by accident, it's not arson, it's simply an accidental fire.”Two firefighters were injured as a result of the fire, however, Condray said both are expected to make speedy recoveries.“We had a firefighter twist their knee and another one hurt his back while working on this fire,” he said. “Both were transported to the emergency room at Scenic Mountain Medical Center, where they were treated and released later that evening. Both are doing well at this time.”Condray said four BSFD engines and several Howard County Volunteer Fire Department trucks responded to the incident.“The biggest challenge we faced with this fire was the low water pressure in the area,” Condray said. “When we first got on the scene, it was barely enough to supply one engine. However, we were able to get some county trucks on the scene and get the pressure up. One we had the water pressure up, we were almost immediately able to turn the fire around.”Condray said following the fire he will push for the building — which is located across the street from a former nursing home that had experienced similar fires over the years — to be demolished.“The situations are very, very similar between the old Hall Bennett Hospital building and the Big Spring Nursing facility, which was located across the street before it was demolished a few years ago,” he said. “We had the same type of problems with kids and vagrants, leading up to a huge fire. Due to the extent of the damage to the building, along with the owner's unwillingness to make repairs or care for it, I'll be pushing to have it torn down, as well.”Area residents with information regarding the cause of the fire are asked to Call Big Spring Area Crimestoppers. To make a tip, call 432-263-TIPS (8477). No caller-ID is ever used and tipsters may remain anonymous.For pictures of the blaze, courtesy of Greg Bodin, visit the Big Spring Herald Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/bigspringherald