Cause of Petersburg Blaze Under Investigation
A fire, over the weekend, did heavy damage to a former tobacco company complex in Petersburg. Authoritires are still seeking to learn the cause.
The fire on Saturday, reported just after 3:30 in the morning, was the largest and most potentially dangerous to hit Petersburg since one that was caused by Hurricane Isabel.
Williams: It caused fire at an old automotive dealership in downtown Petersburg, but this fire probably was a bit larger because of the condition of not being able to get into the center and pull out that debris, it's certainly prolonging the effort of maintaining and watching this building.
Fighting it was a team effort, according to Petersburg Fire Department’s Joanne Williams.
Williams: The regional cooperation for this fire was phenomenal; seven jurisdictions all came together and they worked as one crew, Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie, Hopewell, Fort Lee and Prince George, they were hanging in there the entire time, and Petersburg could not have handled the fire without our neighboring friends.
Quick action, extensive training and regional cooperation prevented the fire from moving into the adjoining buildings in the complex.
Williams: In fact, I talked with the battalion chief who headed up the crews when the fire was occurring, and he entered the adjacent building today with the investigators; and he came out and he said 'wow, you know, go in and look from the inside and it's amazing what these crews did to contain this fire.'
Part of the west wall of the old Brown and Williamson Tobacco Manufacturing plant at the corner of Wythe and Perry Streets collapsed during the fire. Firefighters remain on the scene this morning.
Williams: Fire investigators as well as insurance investigators and investigators from the construction company are also on scene, but they are unable to enter the building because it's still unsafe. They were hoping to pull a crane in to start pulling out the inside of the building so they could soak down everything that remained that had collapsed internally, but we had stormy weather and so now it will be today before they can pull the crane in.
It may be several days before the cause of the fire can finally be determined.
Williams: I believe the investigators are just trying to keep an open mind; the fire chief initially thought on Saturday that it appeared from the main heat source of the fire, that it appeared to start on the roof of the building, in what is referred to as the penthouse area.
The Petersburg Planning Commission recently gave approval to the developer doing the renovation 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 and was nearly complete.
Williams: Franklin Development Group members were here on Saturday during the fire and they actually were optimistic that they would continue with this project; obviously, they would continue with the project in the adjoining buildings because they are developing a complete complex. But they were very optimistic about the building where the fire occured, that it could be repaired and they would move on with renovating that building and turning it into loft apartments.
And that, she says, is good for Petersburg.
Williams: This is a major revitalization effort in the downtown area of Petersburg, by bringing loft apartments and people into this area, right across the street from the new multi-modal station, you'll be able to have public transportation, plus people will be able to walk to restaurants and attractions in the cultural district.
John Ogle, WCVE News