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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Former American of Martinsville plant burns
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Former American of Martinsvillle facilities burned Monday evening, sending flames high into the air and clouds of thick black smoke that apparently were visible in Collinsville and Ridgeway. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
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Monday, March 3, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

(Editor's note: Tuesday's Martinsville Bulletin was printed early Monday evening to help carriers get off the icy roads as early as possible. The former American of Martinsville fire occurred after the edition had gone to press. Check this site for updates and Wednesday's Bulletin for the latest news on the blaze.)

A fire at the former American of Martinsville plant is going to have to burn itself out before investigators can enter buildings to try and find out what started the blaze, according to Martinsville Fire Chief Ken Draper.

“We really don’t have a clue what started it,” Draper said Monday night, and depending on the severity of the damage they eventually find inside, “we may never know.”

As of about 8:15 p.m. Monday, the fire was contained, Draper said.

Calls about the fire began coming in to 911 dispatchers about 5:30 p.m. Monday. Callers were reporting heavy smoke in the air in the area around Aaron and Broad streets near uptown Martinsville, Draper said.

Martinsville Fire Department crews arrived shortly thereafter.

Preliminary indications Monday night were that two or three buildings near the middle of the former manufacturing complex burned, Draper said.

Nobody was inside the buildings and/or injured “that we know of,” he said of city fire crews.

Henry County Public Safety employees and firefighters from “pretty much all of the county (fire) departments” also responded to the blaze, Draper said.

Fire crews would “be here all night,” he said from the scene, to keep the fire under control and from spreading to nearby homes.

Firefighters sprayed water on some homes as a precautionary measure, officials said.

City Manager Leon Towarnicki said he was alerted to the fire by a city employee who texted him about 5:30 p.m. As he left to go to the scene, he noticed flames and smoke were visible from the municipal building uptown.

En route, Towarnicki said, he heard “what sounded like explosions” a couple of times. He speculated that some materials or fuel may have exploded.

Streets and roads as far as several blocks away from the fire were blocked to traffic as firefighters fought the blaze.

People near the scene said they had been told that the smoke was visible from Collinsville and Ridgeway.


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