|City/Town: • Fort Smith|
|Location Class: • Government • Hospital|
|Built: • 1941 | Abandoned: • 2005|
|Historic Designation: • National Register of Historic Places|
|Status: • Abandoned • Burned Down • Endangered • Gutted|
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz • Eddy Sisson • James Kirkendall|
FORT SMITH — Fort Smith fire investigators say a blaze that destroyed more than 100 historic buildings at the old Fort Chaffee hospital has been ruled accidental.
Fire Marshal Chris Driggers told KFSM-TV that a probe of the fire doesn’t indicate it was intentionally set, and that discarded smoking materials were the likely cause.
The Aug. 3 fire charred 90 acres and consumed 110 unoccupied buildings at the former hospital, which was used by the U.S. Army when the post was an active military installation. No injuries were reported and no homes were in danger.
The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority owns the land where the fire occurred.
Executive Director Ivy Owen estimates a clean-up could cost about $600,000 to rid the environment of the asbestos and lead-laden debris.
The Hospital located at Fort Chaffee Arkansas, has been abandoned for many years. The medical complex at Fort Chaffee opened on December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day). The medical complex itself is an enormous site with 128 buildings all held together by long hallways. The complex has its own exchange and theater. It even had its own four lane bowling alley, not to mention being a 1,595 bed hospital.
Groundbreaking for what was then Camp Chaffee was held on September 20, 1941, as part of the Department of War’s preparations to double the size of the U.S. Army in the face of imminent war. That month, the United States government paid $1.35 million to acquire 15,163 acres from 712 property owners, including families, farms, businesses, churches, schools, and other government agencies. The camp was named after Major General Adna R. Chaffee Jr., an artillery officer who, in Europe during World War I, determined that the cavalry was outmoded and, unlike other cavalry officers, advocated for the use of tanks. It took only sixteen months to build the entire base. The first soldiers arrived on December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The installation was activated on March 27, 1942. From 1942 to 1946, the Sixth, Fourteenth, and Sixteenth Armored Divisions trained there. During World War II, it served as both a training camp and a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp. The major purpose of the camp was to train soldiers for combat and prepare units for deployment, but from 1942 to 1946, there were also 3,000 German POWs there. The creation of the camp caused the nearby town of Barling to experience a tremendous boom in housing and businesses.
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