OPELIKA, Ala. (WRBL) – An overnight fire in downtown Opelika remains under investigation after flames, smoke, and water damage destroys several businesses, devastating downtown merchants and loyal customers. An investigation into what sparked the fire along South Railroad Avenue is ongoing.
The fire started at Ma Fia’s Italian restaurant, with fire crews getting called to the scene around 1:05 Thursday morning when a passerby noticed smoke and called 911. Nearly 30 firefighters with Opelika and Auburn Fire Departments worked to keep the fire from spreading to connecting buildings, including shops, restaurants, and gathering spots. As a result, Ma Fia’s is a total loss. After the fire was contained, an excavator tore down what remained of the restaurant so crews could reach hot spots.
Valerie Smith, who owns Southern Crossing, cried, knowing while her building was still standing, the merchandise inside, including her wares for fall and Christmas, were all ruined.
“We were just having a big summer sale to make room for all the Fall and Christmas stuff. I love what I do, and I am sad I can’t do it right now. We woke up to calls and texts from our loyal customers, family, and friends. We drove down here, and we were just in total shock. It’s a complete loss of contents; everything is gone. They had to fight the fire through our building, so it is full of water and smoke,” said Smith.
Along with shock, there is a sense of gratitude. There were no injuries. Firefighters remained safe while battling the fire, and their ability to contain the flames saved the entire block from further destruction.
“We have to see if the heat of the fire caused some structural issues, but for the most part, they were able to contain it and stop it. We are getting the building broken down and spreading it out to put out the hot spots. They did an amazing job,” said Opelika Police Chief Shane Healey.
News 3 is learning the owner of Cakeitecture Bakery smelled smoke when leaving her store just after midnight Thursday morning and called the police. Her alert helped fire crews get a jump on the fire and possibly saved the downtown block from total ruin.
“It’s bad; anytime we have something that affects the downtown part of Opelika that we all love so much, it’s devastating, but it could have been a lot worse; the crews did an outstanding job,” said Chief Shane Boyd.
An investigation into what started the blaze is ongoing. Meanwhile, business owners wait to get into their stores to assess the damage.
“We just need prayers. We are going to be fine. I just don’t know what the future holds for Southern Crossing,” said Smith.
South Railroad Ave and surrounding streets remain closed until further notice. Opelika police are working with the downtown businesses not impacted by the fire to open to foot traffic only.