Local News

Fire hits sweet-potato warehouse in Duplin County

Posted April 26, 2009
Updated April 27, 2009

— A multiple-alarm fire at a Duplin County warehouse that stored sweet potatoes was mostly extinguished late Monday, although hot spots continued to smoke nearly a day after the fire started.

Fire burns sweet-potato warehouse Fire burns sweet-potato warehouse

More than 60 fire departments and hundreds of firefighters from at least six counties responded after a fire broke out at Southern Produce Distributors, 111 West Center St., around 9:30 p.m. Sunday, authorities said.

"I was walking last night, and I smelled it," said the company's owner Stewart Precythe.

Burning wooden crates made it too dangerous to enter the warehouse, and firefighters took defensive measures to keep the fire from spreading beyond the building, said Duplin County Emergency Services director Brian Pearce. The fire was contained to the 40,000-square-foot section of the 120,000-square-foot warehouse, he said.

"A single county, on a fire like this, could not handle it themselves," said Reid Sutherland, with Duplin County emergency management.

No one was injured, but approximately 200,000 bushels – or roughly 10 million pounds – of sweet potatoes were destroyed, estimated Precythe.

He said the fire might have been started by some air compressors and boxes outside the warehouse. Investigators have not determined a cause.

Firefighters pumped more than a million gallons of water on the fire, nearly depleting the town of Faison's water supply. County water and wells were tapped to replenish it.

"We've issued fliers today, just asking people to conserve today. We should be back up and running tomorrow," said Jimmy Tyndall, with Faison's public-works department.

Precythe recalled that another warehouse he owned on the same site burned to the ground in April 1988. Firefighters who remembered that blaze said it took three days to put out.

"My daddy said not to put all my eggs in one basket. I got potatoes all over North Carolina. I got potatoes in Mississippi, Louisiana," he said. "We’ll be shipping potatoes. We’ll keep our customers supplied."

Precythe called the destruction of the warehouse by fire a second time "unbelievable," but said his family is up to the task of keeping their business running.

"We've dealt with adversity before, ... and we'll build it back," he vowed.


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  • grimreaper Apr 27, 2009

    So every 20 years they burn their warehouse to the ground and start over. I like it!

  • Love my boys Apr 27, 2009

    Wow! Don't think Faison will be the same for a while. Southern Produce has been there for as long as I can remember (I was raised in Faison). Sad day for the Precythe family and all the employees involved. Just glad everybody is safe and the only thing lost was sweet potatoes.

  • jenn27537 Apr 27, 2009

    Add some Marshmallows and pecans and we will have Sweet Potatoe Casserole

  • mocena Apr 27, 2009

    Before everyone starts jumping on WRAL, perhaps they should read the top of the page. WRAL: Durham, Raleigh, Fayetteville. That is where WRAL concentrates and that is the news they report.

  • bobbyherring74 Apr 27, 2009

    I agree with you guys. Being a Sampson County native (neighbor to Duplin), I've seen times before where there was a murder or home invasion, etc that was never mentioned on WRAL in favor of something on the social side that was Triangle-related. But I doubt that'll change anytime soon....

  • nc911tc Apr 27, 2009

    You noticed that too? If the news does not tie in to the Triangle somehow, WRAL has very little to do with it. Remember a few days ago while reporting the smoke from the Myrtle Beach fire began migrating north? The only reason they talked about it was because Triangle residence had the possiblity of smelling a little smoke if they went outside. Now don't get me wrong, I love WRAL, but they tend to be Triangle-centric.

  • itsnews2me Apr 27, 2009

    Ummmm....a little butter, a little cinnamon...

  • ffreddevil Apr 27, 2009

    It will be big to them now since requesting manpower from Johnston and Cumberland Counties.

  • 1simplegirl Apr 27, 2009

    capitolcafe - I was wondering the same thing. This fire was HUGE, and it had this small write up. When you have to call out around 30 fire departments to help contain a fire, you'd think it'd be big news. Good thing we have ABC 11. They've actually got a decent write up and lots of pictures.

  • capitolcafe Apr 27, 2009

    why dose wral have pictures and big write up on small fires around wake co but a big fire in a small town just a small amount of information