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Grass fire damages headstones at Fort Smith National Cemetery

Rows of headstones have been damaged after a grass fire swept through the Fort Smith National Cemetery.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — Officials are investigating a grass fire that caused damage to rows of headstones at the Fort Smith National Cemetery.

The Fort Smith Fire Department says at this time, the cause is "undetermined." Officials with the department say that there will not be a further investigation unless any additional information comes forward. 

They say at this time, there are no signs that the fire was set intentionally. 

Video from 5NEWS viewer Kris Keyton shared a video showing a haze of smoke filling the cemetery as fire crews work to put out the flames.

As the smoke clears, family members of loved ones buried in the section of the cemetery that burned, got a chance to evaluate the damages to their loved ones’ final resting place.

“I drove over this morning and I could tell before I ever pulled in, I could see from the road that it was his section,” said Dawn Winford whose father, Ronnie Rogers, is believed to be among some of the first headstones impacted by the blaze. 

Fighting back tears, Winford continued, “it’s just really heartbreaking to pull into and see.”

Winford, like many others who stopped by the Fort Smith National Cemetery, saw a video of the fire on Facebook and were anxious to arrive.

Although Rogers has passed on, Winford believes her father would have been among the first to arrive to try to help clean up the area for his fallen brothers and sisters in arms.

“I know that he would also be out here helping to do what he could do, and helping clear whether he knew them or not.”

Following Wednesday’s fire, crews with the Fort Smith National Cemetery have been working to find the right combination of cleaning solutions to restore the headstones.

“What we do is just see which process is going to work the best to remove the soot from the stones,” said Marshall Murphy, the Director for the Fort Smith and Little Rock National Cemeteries. "We know what we’re going to do, now, we just go through and actually make that happen.”

The process will take time, but Murphy and his team want anyone who was affected by Wednesday’s fire to know. 

“We will take care of the problem. It will be taken care of. It will be taken care of very fast, very efficiently.”

As you walk around the area that was burned, cleaning and restoration efforts are already evident. Something Winford is grateful for.

“I know it’s going to come back and be beautiful. I know the grass will be green again and it will be peaceful and beautiful again,” Winford said.

Murphy spoke to 5NEWS Thursday afternoon and said that if anyone is interested in helping volunteer during the clean-up process, the Fort Smith National Cemetery will be hosting a volunteer cleanup on Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 10 a.m. 

“Please bring a scrub brush if you can to ensure we have enough. We will have the cleaner, buckets and water,” Murphy said.

Murphy extended his gratitude to all that have already reached out for ways to help, but he is urging for any help to wait until the 15th. Power-washing and unsupervised cleaning with non-authorized cleaning products can severely damage the marble headstones.

After the cleanup process is complete, and headstones that sustained any damages beyond repair, a new headstone will be ordered and replaced.

As the smoke clears, 5NEWS has a crew at the scene getting a closer look at the damage to headstones. This is a developing story, please check back for updates. 

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