NOEL, Mo. — A fire Monday morning in downtown Noel destroyed a mosque and a grocery store, and sent two people, including a firefighter, to the hospital.
Thick smoke could be seen billowing from the shattered front windows of the African Grocery Store, 300 Main St., which was housed in a building that was constructed in 1899. The mosque was located in a storefront next to the grocery store.
At least six area fire departments, including some from Benton County in Arkansas, worked to extinguish the fire, which also damaged two other buildings on Main Street.
Noel fire Chief Brandon Barrett said the fire department received a commercial fire call at approximately 7 a.m. Monday. Most of the grocery store was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived.
The cause of the fire is not yet known. The state fire marshal will conduct an investigation, Barrett said.
“I really only have unconfirmed reports,” Barrett said. “There were three people inside the structure at the time the building ignited. It ignited somewhere on the back side of the structure, the side furthest away from Main Street. There was one injury to one of the civilians that were inside.”
Barrett said the individual was taken to a hospital by air ambulance. A firefighter also was taken to Mercy Hospital in Joplin. Barrett said he was unsure as to the extent of their injuries Monday afternoon.
“One of the beams across a window or the door in the main building had fallen and struck him (the firefighter) right in the top of his helmet, mashed his helmet,” he said. “It pretty much saved his life. It really did.”
The fire destroyed the mosque and the grocery store. Two other buildings, which were unoccupied, sustained water damage, according to Barrett.
Barrett said he’s not sure what caused the fire. He said he has no reason to believe it was related to a hate crime.
“There’s no indication of that at all,” he said.
Several local businesses provided the firefighters with sandwiches, hamburgers, pizza and beverages. LeAnn Parish, owner of Bob’s Hometown Pizza, which is across the street from the grocery store and mosque, said she heard about the fire on her police scanner at home and rushed downtown to make sure everyone was OK.
“I knew I needed to get down here, even though it wasn’t my building,” Parish said. “I got here at about 7:15 a.m. We made them some pizzas because we wanted to make sure the firefighters were well taken care of. My dad and both of my brothers are firefighters, so I know how quickly they get exhausted.”
The African Grocery Store, which opened in 2011, had become a hub where the Somali community gathered, according to Globe archives. The store sold various garments, including scarves, prayer rugs and Somali food.
Hundreds of Somalis have settled in Noel since 2009. Somalia, a predominantly Muslim country on the east coast of Africa, has been torn by a civil war for decades. The conflict has driven more than a million people from the country.
Local interpreter and community organizer Abdulkadir Abdullahi said the mosque and the store were treasured by the African community.
After moving to the United States in 2009, Abdullahi has worked with refugees to assist them with doctor’s appointments, job applications and the obtaining of licenses to drive. He said the mosque was used every Friday.
“We have about 600 Somalis in this community, especially from Darfur (in Sudan),” he said. “We try to help them get a job, get a house and give back to the community. The store was very popular among the Somali community because it had everything. Everybody is homesick, and it helped them feel like they were at home.”
Store manager Ayan Aden could not be reached for comment.