Arson Ruled Out In Huge Fire That Destroys Sanford Warehouse
Posted December 23, 2002 12:07 p.m. EST
SANFORD, N.C. — According to investigators, arson has been ruled out as the cause of Friday's fire that destroyed a 100-year-old Sanford warehouse.
According to ATF Battalion Commander Jeff Reid, the official cause of the fire has been listed as "undetermined." Although arson has been ruled out, officials said the cause may never be determined.
Reid said the decision was made based on the fact that the warehouse was such a complete loss.
"You just can't tell," Reid said.
Investigators were able to tell, however, that the fire started on the backside of the warehouse.
The fire at the warehouse owned by WSW Fabric Company, which used to be a cotton mill, started around 4 a.m. Firefighters battled the blaze for several hours.
Thirteen hours after the fire started, it still was smoldering; a small flame was still burning in the ruins.
The warehouse was a complete loss. It had served as mostly a storage facility for fabrics, though one section of it was used to sell fabrics.
Fire officials said a lightning strike could have started the fire.
Fabric being stored in the building, as well as the facility's hardwood floors, added to the ferocity of the blaze.
"That was like adding fuel to fuel," Sanford Fire Chief Wayne Barbour said.
Eyewitnesses said they saw flames shooting about 60-70 feet in the air.
You could feel the heat," nearby resident Reggie Carter said. "It was like you were in an oven. You could have cooked something over here. "
Homes in the neighborhood were evacuated because of the intense heat coming from the blaze.
One nearby resident said he woke up because of the heat inside his house. He soon realized that the heat was off in his home and the heat he felt came from the warehouse fire.
According to people at the scene, they could see the paint bubbling off the sides of homes across the street from the warehouse.
The heat melted aluminum siding on homes and shattered windows. The heat melted the back end and license plates of cars parked nearby.
The fire got so large at one point that extra fire crews were called to the scene to assist. In all, 35 firefighters were needed to put it out.
Barbour said that from his home, about five or six miles away from the fire, he could see an orange-yellow glow fill up the sky.
Barbour also said the light that was falling probably kept the fire from spreading to other buildings. He said embers from the fire floated toward nearby buildings, including City Hall, but the rain doused the embers and kept the other buildings too wet to catch when the embers landed on them.
There were no reports of any injuries and no reports of anybody being inside the warehouse.
Fifteen people were evacuated from nearby homes.
"We were scared," said one of those who was evacuated. "I head a loud boom and heard a firetruck come down here.
"We saw the flames real high. You could feel the heat."
The warehouse is on Chisholm street, just two blocks from Sanford's main fire station.