Originally published September 30, 2007

Former Checker Hall of Fame destroyed by fire

The International Checker Hall of Fame and Chateau Walker in Petal was destroyed by a fire Saturday.

Over 60 firefighters from Petal, Hattiesburg, and Macedonia worked together to battle the blaze that produced a thick black cloud of smoke into the air. The smoke cloud could be seen from Mississippi 42, more than two miles away.

The town landmark is located in the 100 block of Lynn Ray Road.   

Dayne Morgan, 46, said he was in the house playing chess with three other people when someone called the home and said they could see smoke coming from the tower.

Morgan said he grabbed a fire extinguisher and attempted to battle the flames but the blaze was out of control by then.

Morgan, a friend of the Walker family, said he made the 911 call at 2:09 p.m.

Morgan said firefighters arrived on the scene around 2:16 p.m.

"I grew up down the street from this house," Morgan said. "I loved it."

Firefighters were still battling hot spots from the blaze around 9 p.m. Saturday.

Lt. Tammy Moore of the Petal Police Department said it appeared the fire started in the tower section of the building.

About 20,000 square feet of the 35,000-square-feet building were destroyed, Moore said.

An investigation into what caused the fire could not begin Saturday night because firefighters were still putting out hot spots, Moore said.

The State Fire Marshal's office was called in to help with the investigation.

Lynn Ray Road was lined with a horde of neighbors and spectators, who spotted the smoke and gathered to watch the home as it become completely engulfed in flames.

The International Checker Hall of Fame was built in mid-1970s as a part of businessman Charles Walker's mansion. Walker was arrested Jan. 7, 2005, on a federal money laundering charge.

According to his grandson Taylor Drake, 19, Walker's wife, two sons and one of Drake's cousins still lived in the home.

All of them were able to escape the fire unharmed, he said.

"I just saw the smoke from my girlfriend's house," said Drake, a student at Mississippi State University. "The tower was already completely gone when I got here."

Drake said firefighters questioned him and his family about what may have caused the blaze. They told firefighters they had no idea, he said.

"I think it started in the tower because it went first," Drake said. "It had to be engulfed in flames in at least 30 minutes."

The blaze scorched a majority of the main house where Drake said his grandmother's and cousin's rooms were.

The only thing not damaged in the fire was the family's RV where Drake said they'll be staying for now.

"At least no one was in it (the house)," Drake said. "It's just stuff. Just as long as everyone is all right."

  American staff writer Susan Lakes contributed to this report

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Checkers Hall of Fame