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Fire destroys Benning’s JAG office

A fire swept through the Judge Advocate General’s office at Fort Benning Friday night, leaving the building destroyed and case files in question, officials said Saturday.

“When it got up in the attic, it just took off,” said Arthur Simmons, Fort Benning’s fire chief.

A military police officer suffered smoke inhalation. He was taken to Martin Army Community Hospital where he was treated and released.

The police officer was among the first to respond to an 8:50 p.m. 911 call regarding a fire at the JAG office, which handles legal matters — including wills, claims and criminal cases — for Fort Benning soldiers, retirees and their families.

Lt. Col. Kevin Clarke, director of emergency services at Fort Benning, said three fire stations responded with seven fire trucks and 19 firefighters.

But the blaze was too severe, Clarke said. Two trucks from Columbus Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services were sent to help. Altogether, 35 Columbus and Fort Benning firefighters battled the fire, which they got under control around 1 a.m. Saturday. In all, the team used more than 1 million gallons of water.

Nearby residents were without power for more than two hours after a power box blew out while firefighters battled the blaze.

Fort Benning officials have yet to determine a cause. Officials will begin their investigation on Monday.

“We’re going to be sorting through all of this for a while to determine the actual cause,” Clarke said.

The building was still considered unsafe on Saturday. No one was able to enter and investigate. By early afternoon, smoke was still billowing from the building and small fires smoldered within.

The building is the second oldest structure on post, said Col. Tracy Barnes, staff judge advocate who worked out of the office.

Barnes said some of his 48 employees have worked in the building for more than 20 years.

Monica Manganaro, a public affairs spokeswoman on post, said the building used to be a plantation creamery in the 1800s.

“It held memories,” Clarke said.

Twenty-two attorneys work out of the JAG office. Barnes said he was not sure how much damage the fire had caused since they have not been able to get into the building.

The condition of documents inside is unknown. Barnes said the office had a back-up server, but it was inside the building. He said whenever they prepare legal documents, they provide a copy to clients.

As for his displaced staffers, Barnes said he’s hoping to find another location by Monday.

“We’re going to work very hard to recover what we lost,” he said.

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