A fast response by firefighters helped limit damage from a fire Thursday at the manufacturing facilities of Select Hardwoods, a division of Church & Church Lumber Co., at 5056 Boone Trail in Millers Creek.
A Millers Creek fire truck was on the scene in less than three minutes after the alarm went off, said Millers Creek Fire Chief Robbie Bolin. Having a fulltime firefighter on duty at the nearby Millers Creek Fire Station helped make this possible, he added.
He said firefighters from nine departments did a good job limiting the blaze mostly to the shop and garage area of the largely metal building with two additions rather than spreading to other structures and stacks of lumber at the hardwood lumber producing facility. Bolin said having a bountiful water supply nearby from hydrant was a big help.
Wilkes Fire Marshal Jeff Anderson said a maintenance employee reported the fire after smelling smoke and discovering it in the shop area, where it is believed to have started. The employee tried unsuccessfully to put out the fire with several large fire extinguishers.
Anderson said the cause of the fire was undetermined, but added that an investigation later Thursday didn’t rule out catastrophic failure of the electrical system and/or several battery chargers for equipment. He said there was no indication that it was anything other than accidental.
Three investigators from the office of the state fire marshal assisted at the scene at Anderson’s request. “We got the owner to bring in a trackhoe to make the building safe so we could enter to investigate,” he said.
The badly damaged remains of what appeared to be equipment batteries were found when the apparent area of the fire’s origin was dug out, said Anderson, on the scene until almost 9:15 p.m.
Anderson praised firefighters for “making a quick attack (on the fire) and a really good stop.”
The Millers Creek, Cricket and Champion fire departments were dispatched simultaneously about 3:30 p.m. The Wilkesboro Fire Department arrived next, followed by Wilbar, Mulberry-Fairplains, Goshen, Moravian Falls and Broadway. The North Wilkesboro Fire Department was on standby at the Millers Creek station for that department and the McGrady Fire Department did the same for Mulberry-Fairplains.
Wilkesboro’s aerial ladder truck was effective in bringing the blaze under control by spraying large volumes of water from high vantage points, said Bolin. Millers Creek also has an aerial ladder truck but Wilkesboro had four full fulltime firefighters at its fire station immediately ready. Four to five people are needed to operate an aerial ladder truck.
The portion of the 7,000-square-foot building with the shop and garage, constructed in the 1980s, was destroyed. Contents lost included drill presses, welders, torches and other equipment used on logging equipment and for other purposes.
An office area added in the 1990s, used by Church & Church foresters engaged in timber procurement, received mostly smoke, water and heat damage. “Most everything in the office should be salvageable,” said Bolin.
He said an addition made at the other end of the building in the 1990s wasn’t damaged.
Facilities at 5056 Boone Trail also include kilns for drying hardwood lumber. Some of the buildings there were constructed well before the 1980s.
Bolin said the N.C. Highway Patrol and Wilkes Sheriff’s Office assisted by blocking traffic when Boone Trail and Hensley Eller Road had to be closed. Wilkes Emergency Medical Services and the Wilkes Rescue Squad also responded. Bolin said there were no injuries.
Firefighters were on the scene until about 8:30 p.m. The American Red Cross provided them food and water, as did Millers Creek Baptist Church and individuals in Millers Creek.
Bolin said he wanted to thank Millers Creek Baptist Church for making an air-conditioned area of Millers Creek Christian School, adjacent to the building with the fire, available for firefighters. He said that with temperatures in the upper 80s, efforts were made to have firefighters take breaks every 20-30 minutes by rotating them.