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Fire at Warrenton farm supply store still smolders

Posted February 3, 2011

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— A fire at a farm supply store in downtown Warrenton still smoldered Thursday, more than 12 hours after it started, prompting the closure of schools and evacuation of homes and businesses.

"It's gone. Southern States is gone. It's sad," said Milton Cooper, a Division of Motor Vehicles inspector who directed traffic during the fire in the store at 216 W. Franklin St. warrenton fire Warrenton farm supply store fire

Firefighters let the fire burn itself out Thursday because of concerns that spraying more water on the building would let chemicals run into the town's water supply, authorities said. The store sold hazardous and flammable materials, including fertilizer, aerosols, propane and ammunition.

"We were not sure exactly what all types of hazards we had in there, as far as chemical-wise, which we did not want to wash down into our water system and get into the creeks," Warren County Assistant Fire Chief Lee Edmonds said.

Health and safety concerns prompted authorities to close nearby businesses and schools and order homes evacuated. 

Mariam Boyd Elementary and Warren County New Tech High School were closed Thursday. Warren County High School, which served as an emergency shelter overnight, was open.

The closings and evacuations could last until Saturday. Initially, authorities evacuated about a dozen homes and businesses in a three-block radius around the store. Some residents were allowed to home Thursday, while other evacuees stayed at nearby hotels or with relatives.

Fire crews and a hazardous-materials team from Raleigh monitored the fire Thursday and were on hand to keep it from spreading.

The Southern States store, which sat in an old tobacco warehouse, was one of the oldest businesses in the town about 55 miles northeast of Raleigh.

"It had quite a number of employees. Of course, (it was) locally owned and operated by residents here in town," Mayor Pro Tem Woody King said. "It was, of course, a good retail establishment, so this is a tragedy." warrenton fire Fire not out at Southern States store

Authorities said the fire started in the rear of the store, and they don't suspect foul play, although they haven't determined the cause. The State Bureau of Investigation arson team was helping local fire investigators.

Wind and flammable materials quickly spread the fire, which started after the store closed. At one point, flames stretched for nearly two blocks.

Crews from eight fire departments, including some from Virginia, battled the blaze and contained it to the Southern States store. The crackle of flames was punctuated by the occasional explosion of products in the burning store.

Town and county officials were expected to declare a state of emergency later Thursday. King predicted that his community would pull together.

"Warrenton is a strong town," he said. "It pulls together during disaster and tragedy, so I hope we will prove ourselves."

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  • wildcat Feb 3, 2011

    Was this fire intentionally set?

  • bvfd1654 Feb 3, 2011

    The report stating that 8 fire departments were used is incorrect. There were members from 21 fire departments on scene to help battle this blaze. Job well done to all those who participated in that massive blaze. Could have an prob. Should have been a lot worse!! Excellent job of preventing that!

  • verns007 Feb 3, 2011

    I guess this is the largest fire in Warren County since the WARREN THEATRE building fire in 1978 I think it was! I had recently sold the building and moved to Florida. One day my daughter and Doc Jones called to tell me it was on fire. Glad no one was hurt!!!

  • fed up in vance Feb 3, 2011

    As the fire burned last night I had to hold back from shedding a tear. Growing up I could remember going to the old A&P and jumping down off the parking lot down into the lot of that warehouse....also remember watching the trucks loaded with tobacco coming and going to a from market...the smell of flue cured tobacco whafting in the air on a hot summer's afternoon. I remember going and sitting in that old building and watching the HEW HAW production put on if memory serves me by the Afton Elberon Fire Dept. Sorry if memory is slipping but that was after all YEARS ago. Not living in Warren County I didnt frequent Southern States often but I do remember the few times going by there looking for an item or two just how Mr. and Mrs. Heil and their staff treated me. i have nothing but good things to say about them and their fine establishment and have nothing but fond memories of a piece of Warren Co. history lost in the ashes. As with tragedy what doesnt kill us only makes us stronger.

  • f6rider Feb 3, 2011

    We have a place on Lake Gaston and frequently shopped there, we were very sad to see the video on-line last night of the store. A lot of good people work there, we certainly hope that the owners will be able to rebuild there have been such an important part of the community in Warrenton. I'm glad no one was hurt or lives were lost in this tragedy, buildings can be replaced.

  • pulstar40 Feb 3, 2011

    Glad to hear that no one was hurt, and my heart goes out to all those folks who lost their jobs.

  • kemberlymartinez Feb 3, 2011

    This is all a tragic happening but im just happy my dad and everyone is okay..i admit im going to miss this place..it hurt seeing it up in flames...i had a connection with the place..

  • kemberlymartinez Feb 3, 2011

    Im am very glad that my dad and everyone else didnt get hurt.Im going to miss this place,many memories there.My dad had been working there for about 7 years and now he has to find a new job,i admit its gona get some getting use too...i had a connection to the place it hurt to see it up in flames..

  • fed up in vance Feb 3, 2011

    I remember both the Currin's Warehouse fire and the old Warrenton Theater fire. Growing up in Warren County and serving on a volunteer station there before moving away I can honestly say the members of ALL departments in Warren Co. strive to give Warren Co. residents the BEST fire protection they can. Last night showed just how all of these departments and additional resources can come together and have one main objective and reach one main goal. The commissioners of Warren Co. need to listen to these departments when they request additional funding to run the departments and not avoid the subject and try to say there isnt money to be had. It was awesome to see the number of departments from outside the county show up to lend support to their neighbor in need. I know for a fact Vance Co. Fire/EMS sent 2 ariels, 1 tanker and a medic unit and 11 personnel. Unlike what Henderson Daily Dispatch stated Henderson Fire Dept. had NO hand in assisting. Good job to all involved.

  • The Fox Feb 3, 2011

    [You could always request and file MSDS sheets like most fire departments.]
    So what are the fireman supposed to do; stand there and thumb through to hundreds of MSDS sheets? They did correct, let it burn. Fire is the great purifier.

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