A massive fire at a historic Gastonia, North Carolina warehouse last month is estimated to have caused between $4 million to $6 million in damages and will likely disrupt operations for weeks. The fire took several hours to contain and was large enough to appear on Doppler radar images of the area. It destroyed about 25% of the approximate 170,000 square-foot facility known as Mutual Mill, a historic cotton mill. The facility is now owned by Wix Filters, one of Gaston County’s largest companies, and is being used as a storage facility for paper products and lightweight metals.

Fortunately, all three employees that were working that Saturday were able to evacuate the facility without injury. One employee, who was operating a fork lift, noticed the lights flickering right before the power had gone out. He then noticed the fire and rushed to get the other two employees out of the building.

About 80 firefighters from 16 units reported to the scene to help get the fire under control. According to Gastonia Fire Chief, Phil Welch, crews fought the flames from the inside for two hours and were then forced to fight the fire from the outside. “The dense stock in there made it really tough,” Welch said. He mentioned that the fire was fed by large, densely packed inventory of auto filters that were stacked on racks from the floor to the ceiling. According to Welch, the facility did have fire sprinklers, but they were outmatched by the inventory and storage configuration. The high stacks of commodities prevented the water from the sprinklers from reaching the fire. In addition to the contents of the facility, the historic mill, built in 1916, had hardwood floors that had been often coated in oil, which also added fuel to the fire.

Initial fire investigations believed the cause of the fire to be a blown transformer, however, that was later ruled out. Officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze.