Employees of Rich-N-Tone Calls came to work Thursday expecting a typical day. Normally the Stuttgart, Ark., company would have been hard at work when 8 a.m. rolled around, but by then smoke was already rolling out of a back room and the Stuttgart Fire Department had been called. By 10 a.m. the building was nothing but a shell, burned inside and almost outside as the flames melted the sides of the building.
“It’s worse than what you think when you pull up and look,” Jim Ronquest told Arkansas Matters. “There is a lot of charring. There is a lot of water damage.”
According to the Stuttgart Daily Leader, the fire started near RNT’s dust collector. A “failure of equipment or heat source” sparked a piece of debris — perhaps dust, saw dust, fiber, or lint — and set the shop ablaze. The fire never made it outside the building, but the smoke was visible from a distance. The Daily Leader reported that the fire was so hot at one point it bent a steel beam.
The fire was out by 2 p.m., with a walk-through performed at 5 p.m. No one was hurt, and many of the company’s historic items were saved in time, but the business itself is in dire straits.
“We are just trying to get in touch with people and ask them to please be patient,” Ronquest told Arkansas Matters. “Give us time to get things back up and running and we will take care of your business. It may take a little bit but we want to take care of the people who take care of us.”
The fire comes at an especially heart-breaking time, as Rich-N-Tone was just beginning its celebratory year for four decades in business. The company launched in 1976, with Butch Richenback — 1972 World Champion and 1975 Champion of Champions duck caller — whittling the first call.