LENOIR, NC (WBTV) - Investigators said Monday a massive fire that caused major damage to a building in Lenoir Sunday afternoon was likely sparked by a welding torch.
According to officials, the incident happened at Morganton Boulevard and Virginia Street at the old Broyhill occasional plant, which has been closed for many years.
The Lenoir Fire Department received the fire call at around 4:50 pm. Sunday and 55 City of Lenoir firefighters responded.
After arriving on scene, staff asked the Lenoir Police Department to shut down Morganton Boulevard and Virginia Street to run fire hoses.
Crews knocked the fire down around 7 p.m. but it remained burning and smoking for some time. Much of what was still burning Sunday night was the wooden roof that collapsed.
The building did not have much in it, officials said, as renovations were underway to convert the old factory into a warehouse. The building, according to owner Greg Dahbura, was being transformed into what’s called a High-Bay Storage Building.
Dahbura says there is a shortage of storage areas with open heights. He said as part of the project, the renovation crew was taking out the flooring of the 2nd floor to open up the space. The crew was using a torch to cut steel trusses that held the floor up.
“We started on that in August and were almost done,” he said. Officials say an hour after the crew left for the day on Sunday, the flames were spotted by a passerby. Fire officials say their preliminary assessment is that the torch was the source for the fire.
The old Broyhill Occasional Plant had shut down almost 15 years ago. It had been in use for decades, though. Colene Silver came by to take a look at what was left. She retired from Broyhill and says almost her entire family at one time or another had worked for Broyhill. It was hard, she said, to see the old building go. “It was a part of my life,” she said.
Meanwhile, fire crews remained at the scene Monday putting out hot spots. Some areas still smoldering are buried under tons of debris and fire officials expect it to keep burning for days to come. They do consider it under control and not a threat to nearby buildings at this time.
Lenoir firefighters had the blaze under control and contained around 11:30 p.m. Sunday night, and the majority of the crews returned to their stations around 1:30 am.
As of Monday morning, firefighters had the blaze under control and were monitoring the scene.
“At this point, the fire is contained within the building walls and it’s going to burn and smolder a few days,” LFD Fire Chief Ken Hair said Monday morning. “We’re making sure everything is contained. When we get visible fire, we put it out. It will take a few days.”
Chief Hair said reports suggest the fire was started by workers using torches to cut steel pipe and beams out of the roof.
Hair said he suspects some roof material may have caught fire and had been smoldering unnoticed when the contractors left. The majority of the fire was the roof burning, he said. The building is mostly steel and concrete.
There were a few explosions during the incident caused by pressurized acetylene and oxygen tanks on site.
Crews will continue to monitor the scene while the property owner coordinates site cleanup. No one was injured during the fire.