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No injuries in fire at city plant
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A firefighter uses a ladder truck to walk to the roof of Southern Finishing as smoke clouds the air Wednesday. Fire broke out in the finishing room of the plant on Church Street in Martinsville. (Bulletin photo by Eric Steinkopff)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

By BULLETIN STAFF REPORTS -

A machine in the finishing room at Southern Finishing Co. in Martinsville caught fire Wednesday, causing flames to shoot eight feet into the air through the building’s roof and prompting workers to evacuate, said Martinsville Fire Marshal Ted Anderson.

No one was injured in the blaze, Anderson said.

The fire was reported just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the plant at 801 E. Church St., which makes wood components for the furniture industry. When Anderson arrived a few minutes later, he said, flames could be seen shooting from the roof, and a security officer feared one worker might still be inside.

Anderson wasn’t sure how many people were working when the fire began, but he said he saw about 15 who had evacuated.

The worker who had been feared inside managed to find his way out on his own, Anderson said. The man had attempted to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher but was not able to do so, Anderson added.

He said fire officials aren’t sure what caused the machine to catch fire.

“I don’t suspect anything suspicious,” he said, adding, “We may not ever know the exact ignition source.”

A supervisor told investigators that the machine that burned had been shut down about 30 minutes before it ignited, Anderson said.

Firefighters with the Martinsville Fire Department and Dyers Store and Collinsville volunteer fire departments responded to the scene. They used a foam product to smother the fire, which had spread into an exhaust system directly above the machine, Anderson said.

Chemicals used to stain products in the finishing room also caught fire, producing a “thick, orange-yellowish type smoke” that was “very toxic,” Anderson said.

For that reason, firefighters wore extensive protective gear and breathing apparatuses when they were inside the building, he said.

Whitish-gray smoke could be seen billowing from vents on the building’s roof as firefighters worked. Anderson said that smoke posed no threat to passersby.

“Inside, yes, it’s hazardous, but outside it dissipates and is no threat whatsoever,” he said.

Among those watching the firefighters was Southern Finishing employee Richard Hairston, who said he was alerted to a problem when an alarm sounded.

“We were working, and I didn’t know what it was,” Hairston said. “We already knew what to do when the alarms came out.”

Employees at Southern Finishing routinely practice emergency evacuation drills, he said.

The fire was contained within about 15 minutes, said Anderson. It was kept to a 3- by 4-foot area where the machine burned, he said, but smoke damage was present throughout the finishing room, which he said is about 10,000 square feet.

Company officials will assess whether items inside the room — such as unassembled products that were being finished — were damaged.

Anderson could not speculate on the value of the damage to the machine or the wood products, he said. However, he estimated damage to the roof and ventilation system at about $3,000.

By the time firefighters cleared the scene around 8:45 p.m., all parts of the plant were again operational with the exception of the damaged machine, Anderson said.

Also responding Wednesday were the Martinsville Police Department and Stone Ambulance Service. The Fieldale Volunteer Fire Department stood by to answer calls in the city while Martinsville firefighters battled the blaze, Anderson said.

“It was a tremendous help having other departments there,” he said. “It was definitely a team effort.”

“There’s been several industrial fires here lately,” he added, referring to fires at Bassett Superior Lines and a former Bassett Furniture plant in recent months. “This could have been another loss, but it wasn’t.”

 

 
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