Fire levels Vina’s gas station, longtime town fixture – and basically only source of sales tax revenue

A.J. Alkotof, right, who leased the building from Mountain Express, said he plans to be back in business one way or another. News photos/Jason Collum

VINA | Mayor D.W. Franklin could only look on with wonder at the complete devastation after a fire leveled Vina’s only convenience store just after midnight Monday morning.

“It’s all we had,” Franklin said. It’s a loss he feels personally because he and many others stopped in frequently to sit and chat or for a bite to eat. It’s also a major loss he feels as it was basically the town’s only source of sales tax revenue.

Now, all he and others can do is wait to see what will happen to the future of “Vina’s gas station.”

Fire chief Michael Moomaw said his department received the call at 12:29 a.m. Monday that fire was spotted at the store on Hwy. 19.

“When I left my home, I could see the flames from my house, so I knew we had a pretty bad fire,” Moomaw said. “When we got here the building was fully engulfed and the fire was coming through the roof.”

Upon arrival Vina firefighters, aided by departments from Burnout and Hodges, had to work quickly to get it under control.

“I think the thing that helped us was were able to use our deluge gun on it for about five minutes,” Moomaw said. “It knocked it down enough that we could contain it and not cause any more damage.”

Any more damage could have been catastrophic as the flames were threatening the station’s gasoline pumps, which were already being affected by the severe heat. Additionally, firefighters were having to keep water on a cabinet of propane gas bottles at the front of the building. One firefighter said the top bottles in the case did explode, but they were able to keep the remaining shelves cool enough to prevent a domino-effect from occurring.

Nothing was salvageable from the store.

Firefighters were able to completely extinguish the fire by around 3:30 a.m. An inspector from the state Fire Marshal’s office is expected to visit the site by Thursday to try to determine the fire’s cause and origin. A.J. Alkotof, who leased the building from Mountain Express, said an employee who opened the store Sunday reported smelling something like burning wires, but there was no presence of smoke and they couldn’t find anything.

“I am grateful to Hodges and Burnout who responded, and to our guys for the hard work put into saving what we did and giving us something to work with when the investigator got here,” Moomaw said. “That’s one thing I like about our firefighters around here, Vina, Franklin County – we work hard together. All you have to do is call and they’re going to show up.”

What happens now

A representative of the building’s owner, Mountain Express Oil Company of Acworth, Ga., was surveying the damage Monday afternoon. She said it was too early to tell whether Mountain Express would rebuild in the community.

“They have to build this back. This is all we’ve got,” said Vina reside Adam Ozbirn, who had stopped by to take in the scene.

“It’s important to the community because it was a place where people would stop and eat breakfast and lunch,” Moomaw said. “It was a convenience store that was handy for the people of Vina. It was the loafer’s bench.”

For his part, Alkotof said one way or another he wants to be back in business in Vina, serving his fellow residents. 

“If Mountain Express will rebuild it, I will reopen,” Alkotof said. “If they don’t rebuild, I’m just going to buy this building,” pointing to the former Davidson Grocery building across the street. “I’ve been in this town for five years. This is my town. My home is here.”