The apartment house where Margaret Mitchell wrote most of "Gone With the Wind" went up in smoke early Saturday.
The fire engulfed the 95-year-old building and left only portions of the brick and stucco walls standing, said Fire Department Capt. Floyd Wilson.Mitchell lived with her husband in a rented first-floor apartment from 1926 to 1932 at what was then the Windsor House Apartments. The home was no Tara: Mitchell called it "The Dump."
Although the three-story building has been boarded up since 1982, tourist buses still rolled by in tribute to Mitchell.
The blaze ended a long battle to restore the house and provide Atlanta with its only Mitchell tourist attraction in time for the 1996 Olym-pics.
In 1988, the owner, Trammell Crow Co., wanted to tear down the building, but then-Mayor Andrew Young refused to sign the demolition permit. The house was on the city's list of protected historic landmarks.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but fire officials ruled out lightning from a thunderstorm that drenched Atlanta overnight. The head of a local preservation group trying to restore the house said police told her they suspected arson.
"This is a great tragedy," said Mary Rose Taylor, chairwoman of Margaret Mitchell House Inc.
Taylor said police told her that minutes before the fire, a passer-by reported smelling kerosene and then saw flames.
The house is owned by Childress Klein Properties, headed by Donald Childress. Just two days ago, Childress refused the preservation group's most recent offer to buy the house, Taylor said.
Taylor's group was planning a $2.6 million restoration project.
The group will continue to try to acquire the site, and will focus on reconstruction. "We're undeterred," Taylor said.