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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Neighbors, spectators react to blaze

Monday, March 3, 2014

By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer

The former American of Martinsville fire on Monday attracted crowds of spectators.

The scene attracted spectators at Cleveland Avenue, in the parking lots around the Department of Motor Vehicles office on Starling Avenue and the city recycling bins on Market Street, as well as on Aaron Street, before the roads were blocked by city officials.

At the corner of Aaron and Starling Avenue, Teressa Walsh was working at Walsh’s Chicken and More, which she co-owns with her husband Mitchell, when she heard explosions in the plant and saw fire trucks go down Aaron Street.

She was “blessed” that the restaurant did not lose power, Walsh said, and although the fire killed business for a while, ultimately business picked back up. Several customers called to see if the business was open, and customers and friends said they had seen the smoke in Collinsville and Ridgeway.

By around 7:30, things had quieted down. Walsh planned to take the chicken and biscuits already prepared to the fireighters on the scene.

Martinsville City Councilman Mark Stroud relayed that message to the firefighters. He had come out to check on the firefighters and see if they needed anything Monday night.

“There’s nothing they are lacking,” he said, adding, “It’s mighty cold out there.” Temperatures were in the 20s.

He said at that time, the firefighters were making sure the blaze did not spread across Aaron and Broad streets.

He said he understands that furniture was stored in one of the buildings and a wholesale business used another building.

Jim Peverall of Aaron Street lives one metal building away from the fire. Normally, winds from the west would have blown the fire toward his house, but the nor’easter storm turned them away Monday, he said as he stood in Aaron Street watching the blaze.

When Peverall first saw the fire smoke was on the roof of one of the buildings. He had no idea what caused the blaze, but he said workers had been in the building for the previous three or four days.

Across the street from Peverall’s home, Mildred Gilley and her son, David Gilley, watched the fire from their front door. They had no electricity, but their house still offered some warmth compared to the bitter temperatures outside.

Mildred Gilley had seen the smoke from a window in the home where she has lived for 37 years. Like Peverall, she feared that the wind could have blown the fire up to her home, but it did not happen.

She planned to stay in the house Monday night, she said, adding that she had no where else to go.

Across the street, Peggy Joyce had seen the dark cloud from her window and thought a storm was coming up. But it was smoke, and before her son, James Grogan, could call 911 to report the fire, they heard a fire engine.

It was scary, Joyce said, as she watched the flames and could feel their heat.

Retired Martinsville fire marshal Donald Draper remembered that fire Monday as he stood in the crowd on Starling Avenue watching the blaze roar.

“It brings back old memories,” he said, and the excitement of fighting such a fire. “It’s in your blood.”


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