PHARR — Esther Corpus watched in shock as the family-owned business burned to the ground on New Year’s Day. 

She had been in San Benito when the call came in at about 11 a.m.: Matt’s Building Materials in Pharr was ablaze. 

On the phone was Jeremy Smith, one of the owners of the family-operated business who lives next door to the lumber-supply store. 

“He noticed the fire at the door shop,” Corpus said, referring to an area where they build doors. “He lives right next door so he was probably first on scene.”

Esther Corpus and Jeff Jackson watch in disbelief as a structure fire burns Matt’s Building Materials on Saturday in Pharr. Esther’s sister’s home is behind the business. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

It’s unclear what started the fire at 404 E. Expressway 83, but it quickly got out of hand. 

“We’re not sure how it started. We don’t know anything,” Corpus said. 

Shortly before noon, pictures and videos of the store engulfed in flames began to surface online. 

Smoke could be seen for miles. 

“It’s just out of control,” Corpus said about 2 p.m. “It’s a lumber store.”

Vehicles traveling near the I-2/I-69C Pharr Interchange were diverted west to McAllen because the air was thick with smoke and caused hazardous driving conditions. Meanwhile, emergency personnel were quickly evacuating homes near the area. 

Firefighters from across the Valley help battle a structure fire at Matt’s Building Materials on Saturday in Pharr. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Corpus’ sister and brother-in-law, Diana and Danny Smith, also own the store and live next door to the business. They weren’t home when it happened. 

“They’re in New Mexico,“ Corpus said. “I’m sure they’re in shock and probably traveling back, but I haven’t heard from them personally.”

The drive back to the Rio Grande Valley, however, takes 16 hours. 

Corpus said she tried to get through roadblocks to at least move her sister’s vehicles out of the way, but emergency crews stopped her. 

“They wouldn’t let me in to move her cars, so I’m just standing by and watching,” she said. “I’m watching my employment go down in flames.” 

Corpus, who works as an office manager in accounts payable, said no one was working at the time the fire broke out. 

“No, thank God we were closed,” she said. “Thank God.”

There are at least 100 other people employed at that location, but the business was closed to mark New Year’s Day. 

“Pharr is the original location, the main hub, the corporate office,” she said about the store, which opened in 1972 and has grown to two other locations. One in Palmview and the other in San Benito. 

Corpus said she couldn’t think of anything inside the door shop that could’ve sparked a fire. 

“We have saws and the normal door shop equipment, but nothing that could’ve been left on,” she said. 

Instead, she suspected it might have been sparked by a New’s Year’s Day tradition. 

“Probably fireworks,” she said. “That’s just my guess.”

Fire crews were still battling the blaze at 3 p.m.

“The fire department did respond in big numbers, but it doesn’t seem to be out yet,” Corpus said. Fire crews from across Hidalgo County could also be seen fighting the blaze. 

And as far as her sister’s house, “it appears that they’re keeping the fire away,” she said.

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View Monitor photojournalist Delcia Lopez’s full photo gallery here:

Photo Gallery: Matt’s Building Materials goes up in flames