An investigator with the state fire marshal's office will be searching for the cause of a mid-afternoon fire Wednesday in downtown New London that destroyed one vacant store front and damaged an adjacent two-story building.

An investigator with the state fire marshal’s office will be searching for the cause of a mid-afternoon fire Wednesday in downtown New London that destroyed one vacant store front and damaged an adjacent two-story building.

Reporting the fire was Millie Powell, New London city clerk.

“The director of the NECAC office come down to city hall and asked me to call 911 because the building was on fire, so I did,” she said. “They (firefighters) responded quickly to it.”

According to Powell, nearby buildings were quickly evacuated because of fear the flames would quickly spread to adjacent buildings.

“The guys all come in and got us out of the buildings,” she said. “It was already on fire by the time I come out; flames were coming out and black smoke was billowing out. It was very hot. The windows were busting out, so it had already been going for a little while.”

Among those ordered to evacuate was James Fox, who occupied a second-floor apartment in the building next door to the one that burned.

“I was just sitting there watching TV. I was getting ready to get up and get my shower to get ready for work and a cop came and pounded on the door and said we had to get out,” said Fox, who had lived in the apartment for three years.

Fox was trying to talk firefighters into allowing him to return to his apartment to pick up some personal items.

“My wallet and everything is up there in my apartment, but I don’t know what condition mine is in,” he said.

Jack Miller, a former firefighter from Frankford, said the building where the fire started had at one time been a laundromat. Prior to that it had been been part of a bag factory.

Marshall Miller, assistant fire chief in New London, told a media member that the structure where the fire originated had neither a roof or utilities. Reportedly, the entire block will remain barricaded until the fire marshal can reach the scene.

The building next to the one that burned featured three second-story apartments, two of which were occupied. The displaced tenants were being assisted by the Red Cross.

On the ground floor was the NECAC office, which sustained heat, smoke and water damage, according to Brent Engel, the public relations officer for NECAC. Engel said operations at the New London NECAC will temporarily be shifted to its Hannibal office.

Late Wednesday afternoon MoDOT announced its crews had closed approximately one block of Business U.S. 61 in New London, between Fourth and Fifth Streets, due the possibility of a structurally deficient building caused by Wednesday’s fire. MoDOT advised the closure will remain in effect for at least 24 hours until the safety of the building is determined.

Reach reporter Danny Henley at danny.henley@courierpost.com