07/18/06 — History ablaze - Mount Olive's Murry feed mill burns

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History ablaze - Mount Olive's Murry feed mill burns

By News-Argus Staff
Published in News on July 18, 2006 1:56 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- A familiar landmark was destroyed Monday afternoon as fire ripped through the old Murray family feed mill in Mount Olive.

Billowing smoke could be seen as far away as the Wayne County Fairgrounds more than 10 miles away and Breazeale Avenue in was shut down for several hours as more than 100 firefighters battled the blaze in near 100-degree weather.

Mount Olive feed mill fire

News-Argus/Bobby Williams

It took more than 100 firefighters more than seven hours to completely extinguish Monday's blaze at the old Murray feed mill in Mount Olive.

"This is the biggest fire we've had in Mount Olive for probably a couple of years considering the size and the structure involved," Mount Olive police Chief Emmitt Ballree said. "With a big fire like this and as hot as it is today, you need manpower to battle this. When you put on all that gear, and get up there to battle it, you can't last that long, no matter what kind of shape you're in."

The call came in to the Mount Olive fire station at 4:15 p.m. Fire Chief Steve Martin said it took firefighters more than seven hours to completely put out the fire. Seven departments from Wayne and Duplin counties battled the blaze, including Mount Olive with mutual aid from the Calypso, Dudley, Indian Springs, Smith Chapel, Thoroughfare and Oak Wolfe volunteer fire departments. Wayne County EMS sent two trucks, and the Red Cross provided water for the rescue workers. Mount Olive police helped with traffic control.

Martin said the cause of the fire was a spark from a torch being used to cut metal inside the building. The building's owner, Durwood Murray, had some men doing work outside one of the buildings, he said.

Martin said the workers cut some metal around 3 p.m. and left. A spark apparently smoldered, and by the time firefighters arrived, the building was fully engulfed.

"It took us over an hour to bring it under control," said Martin, who was on the scene until 11:30 p.m. "We were putting out hot spots. "Every time we thought we had it out, we'd look and there was some more."

The two-story building, built in 1948, was full of fat lighter wood, he said.

And it was hot, Martin said.

"We had 15 firemen overcome with the heat," the chief said. "With the temperature, with the humidity and all, it was probably 100 degrees."

Smith Chapel Fire Chief Charlie McClenny wiped the sweat pouring from his brow Monday as he took a quick break.

"It's good and hot," McClenny said more than an hour after the battle against the blaze began. "It's the biggest one I've seen for a while. When we came out here, we could see smoke for I'd say at least 11 miles, and with the heat, we all needed plenty of manpower and plenty of water to battle this."

Emergency Medical Services were at the scene Monday to give oxygen and fluids to firefighters after they were relieved for breaks from fighting the blaze.

EMS workers also checked blood pressure, telling Martin several firefighters would not be able to return to the fire because of heat exhaustion.

"It was so daggone hot, with all that turn-out gear, just to stand there, much less to do work," he said. "But everybody did a good job, and that's what helped us get it out."

At the scene Monday, Mount Olive EMS worker Marian Johnson said she and fellow worker Carol Taylor were watching the firefighters closely.

"It is very dangerous," she said. "Their suits are made to keep moisture in and they are heavy. Their body temperatures elevate quickly."

"We are trying to keep them cooled down," Ms. Taylor added.

But for many of the firefighters, leaving the scene of the battle was not a decision they wanted to make.

Dudley firefighter Melissa Herring, who had just come down from her turn on the ladder truck shooting water down onto the blaze, said although it was hot, she did not want to leave her post for a break.

"They have to make us come down," she said. "No one wants to leave."

Fellow firefighter Jason Fuller agreed, but even he had to take a break for water. He spent nearly 35 minutes on top of the ladder truck when the blaze first started.

"With all the smoke and flames, it was really hot," he said.

Calypso Captain Brandon Cashwell was on the right side of the mill as a tanker sent a high, arching stream of water into the burning building.

"It's hot," Cashwell said. "It has put off a lot of heat. The grass is singed all the way to the road. With a fire this size, it could spread, and our goal was to keep it from spreading, and keep everyone safe."

The building, valued at about $125,000, with about $75,000 worth of equipment inside, was destroyed. It was a $200,000 total loss.

There was no insurance on the building, because it was so old, the building's owner said.

"This old mill has been here ever since I was a little boy," said Mount Olive Assistant Fire Chief Greg Wiggins as water poured like a stream off the old facade. "It was a landmark here and part of Mount Olive's history."