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Building inspected two days before massive fire, report noted broken sprinkler system

(Courtesy: The Caldwell Journal) (Courtesy: The Caldwell Journal)

The owner of a building that caught fire Friday in Caldwell County is speaking out after a Fire Marshal's report released Monday stated the building had a broken sprinkler system.

According to the report, the Old Shuford Mill on Falls Avenue in Granite Falls was inspected just two days before the massive fire broke out Friday night. It took emergency crews from four counties to get the fire out and under control. There was still black smoke in the air on Saturday.

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The Caldwell County Fire Marshal's inspection report noted that the building was in violation, noting that someone needed to "repair [the] sprinkler system ASAP! (Put back in service)."

The owner of the building, Mike Granger, said he had already ordered the part for the sprinkler system. Granger lived in an apartment in the building.

"That's what the inspection reports are for - to find errors like that. When we found the jockey pump out, we immediately called Sunland who does our service for us. They came out Thursday, they diagnosed it, ordered the part and obviously, the part didn’t get here before Friday night. Actually, it's fixed right now," he said.

The report also noted that a 24-hour fire watch was needed on the building until the sprinkler system was back in working order, saying someone needed to walk the grounds "every hour and document until [the] sprinkler system [is] back online."

DOCUMENT: Click here to read the Fire Marshal's inspection

Granger said two people were doing the hourly walk the day of the fire.

"The two guys working, doing the hourly deal, smelled something. Around 4:30. They spent about a half-hour, and it was in the middle of the building, they spent about a half hour trying to find the smell, looking in the storage units and the cracks. It wasn't a smell they ever smelled before," Granger said.

"It wasn't anything they could put their finger on," he continued. "One of the guys even went on the catwalk on top where you can look down in the storage units and tried to find where the smell was coming from. They finally just said it has to be someone storing bad food or something along those lines, and they didn’t think another thing of it. And then the fire started an hour or hour-and-a-half later."

The building was set to be reinspected Monday.

The fire broke out around 7:15 p.m. Friday night, forcing nearby neighborhoods and businesses to be temporarily evacuated due to the heat from the fire. 

"One of our tenants called me at 6:58 p.m. saying there's a lot of smoke coming. Think he said the whole back side of the warehouse is on fire. I just said, 'oh my God,' and jumped in the car," Granger said. "I was in Fort Mill, South Carolina, playing golf with my dad. But I jumped in the car and came back and started to watch the spectacle. Kinda depressing."

"That's where I lived. That's more than half my business," he added. "And I've upset a lot of people. So, it's not good. I feel their pain. I know what they're going through. I'm going through it too. I just want them to know I feel for them."

Firefighters from all 16 stations in Caldwell County, as well as stations from Catawba, Alexander, Wilkes and Burke counties responded to the blaze.

The factory in the Shuford Mills building shut down years ago, but at least five small businesses were still using the building. There were also 250 rented storage units in the plant, county officials said. Officials did not say how much the damage would cost. 

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There were three apartments inside the warehouse, which were all destroyed, according to a spokesperson with Caldwell County. Firefighters were able to save five buildings that surrounded the warehouse. 

It is not clear how the fire may have started. No one was inside the building when it caught fire. No injuries were reported.

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