Former Tobacco Factory Burns in Petersburg
A fire over the weekend did heavy damage to a former tobacco company complex in Petersburg.
The call came in early Saturday morning.
Williams: The fire department received a call at 3:34 am; and when they arrived at the former Brown and Williamson Tobacco Manufacturing Company complex, the building was engulfed in flames.
Petersburg Fire Department’s Joanne Williams says flames were shooting into the air.
Williams: They immediately realized that they would not be able to handle it alone; and they called the surrounding localities -- Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie, Fort Lee, Hopewell and Prince George -- and they immediately came. Great regional cooperation.
The complex of buildings stands at the corner of Wythe and Perry Streets.
Williams: It took about sixty firefighters a little less than three hours to contain the blaze, and they did a great job of preventing the flames from spreading to adjacent buildings. There is some water damage in the two adjacent buildings, but, no fire hit those buildings.
The Petersburg Planning Commission recently gave approval to the Franklin Development Group of Richmond to go ahead with the second phase of its conversion of the factory into living and retail space. The area hit by the fire is part of the first phase of renovation and was nearly complete.
Williams: That's correct. They certainly were in the stages of putting up sheet rock and they put new windows in and plans call for the loft apartments to be ready in that building by March, 2011. Part of the wall is down and, certainly, it will be difficult to keep on target at this point. The owners of the building, as well as the contractor who's doing the construction work were there and they were quite optimistic that they will continue.
Petersburg Fire crews were there all day Saturday, yesterday, and there are still firefighters on the scene this morning.
Williams: The west wall of the building partially collapsed and they brought in a crane and the crane was removing part of the wall upon the third floor level to find hot spots and fire crews were working well into the afternoon to hit the hot spots and find them.
Fire investigators are also continuing to comb through the debris, this morning, to find the cause of the fire.
Williams: Just from a brief and initial investigation, it appears that the fire did start in what they call the Penthouse area up on the roof, but , that will not be known until a complete investigation is finished.
Williams: Petersburg did have a lightning storm on Friday night. Don't know if that could have contributed to this or not.
The factory complex has been part of Petersburg for as long as most people can remember.
Williams: All three buildings are historic. They are in a historic district and designated as historic buildings by the federal government and the state government. Actually one of the buildings in the complex--not this one, but, the adjacent one--used to be the old Cameron Tobacco, so they date back well into the early 1900s and I believe the Cameron building before then.
It's been a while since the city faced a fire of this magnitude.
Williams: This is the largest fire to hit Petersburg since 2003, when a hurricane came through and caused a fire at an old automotive dealership in downtown Petersburg.
You can expect traffic detours in the area of the fire.
John Ogle, WCVE News