The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is investigating two suspicious fires in Mason last week.
According to Mason Fire Chief Charles Jenkins, firefighters were dispatched to a vacant building just west of Finde Naifeh Road on Hwy. 70 West just after midnight on Thursday, May 25. Jenkins said the building was less than 25 percent involved, which means less than a quarter of it was burning, with visible flames and smoke.
Mason’s fire department arrived five minutes after being dispatched and they were immediately notified that an additional fire had been reported approximately half a mile east of their location. It was initially reported by several people that a tractor-trailer was on fire near the Dollar General at 71 Hwy. 70 West, however when a Mason unit en route to the original call passed Dollar General there was no fire.
A few minutes later dispatch told firefighters that several calls had come in reporting a tractor-trailer on fire in front of the former Mason Market, at 285 Hwy. 70 East near Charleston Mason Road, which was a mile east of the initial structure fire.
The first fire was put out at 12:23 a.m., 11 minutes after firefighters arrived, and the second fire was put out a short time later.
“Upon their arrival, units were presented with a fully-involved tractor trailer with an additional structure on fire and another being impinged upon by radiant heat from the burning vehicle,” Jenkins said. “Crews worked quickly to bring the fires under control with the structure being declared out at [12:37] and the tractor trailer at [12:52].”
Other local fire departments – Covington, Three Star, Charleston, Gallaway, Tipton County, and Fayette County – were also dispatched to the fires as was Priority Ambulance.
“Despite the conflicting information on the initial response, the fires being intentionally set, having multiple operations at once, and the fact that the tractor trailer was a complete loss, three structures were saved with repairable damage thanks to the combined efforts of all agencies involved,” Jenkins said.
It is believed the fires were intentionally set and they are currently being investigated by the TBI.
“After operations began to wind down, it became highly evident that the fires were intentionally set. In total, there were separate fires in two vacant commercial buildings and a tractor trailer. One additional vacant commercial building was damaged by radiant heat from the tractor trailer burning in close proximity to it.”
Fires are nothing new in Mason
Mason is no stranger to fires at its commercial structures, or even commercial structures owned and/or operated by its mayors, as these two were.
On Sept. 22, 2017, an overnight explosion destroyed the Volunteer Mart/Ward’s Service Station. The business was located on the northeast corner of the Hwy. 59-Hwy. 70 intersection, in between the locations of last week’s fires, and was owned by David Ward before his death in 2016. It was investigated as arson.
Eight months later, the X-Press Food Mart and Dollar Mart Grocery, across the street from the Volunteer Mart site, were destroyed after a wreck between two tractor-trailers at the narrow intersection. One of the trucks ran through the brick building after being hit, then caused a fire that completely damaged the gas station. X-Press Food Mart was operated for more than a decade by current mayor Eddie Noeman, who was elected in December.
The X-Press Food Mart fire was not investigated as arson. It happened five years to the day from last week’s fires and has not been rebuilt, which has been a source of contention between Noeman and the former board of mayor and aldermen. During a meeting last year, he told constituents the rebuild of and any progress on cleaning the property up was being hamstrung by city and state regulations.
Buildings owned by mayor’s corporation
It is important to note the same corporation, Hamaza Corp., and its officers own X-Press Mart, both buildings involved in Thursday’s fires, and a dozen other commercial and residential properties in Mason. Eddie Noeman was Hamaza’s incorporator in 2019 and his home address is the corporation’s mailing address.
Additionally, the site of the second fire is the address listed for the town’s newest business, Mason Academy CDL, LLC, which was started by Noeman in late February 2023. There was no signage promoting the new business, though.
Anyone who may have any information on these incidents is asked to come forward. Information can also be shared with the Mason Police Department, Mason Fire Department, the Tipton County Sheriff’s Office, or through the TBI at 800-762-3017.