Local firemen respond to Boykins blaze

Published 8:50 am Tuesday, May 11, 2010

BOYKINS, Va. —A warehouse that used to store shelving, mannequins and other items for department stores burned to the ground Friday.

Firefighters and rescue personnel from 17 departments, including several from Hertford and Northampton counties in northeastern North Carolina, helped extinguish 11:13 a.m. the blaze, which appears accidental.

There were no injuries.

The warehouse, which was owned by Dolphin Fixtures of Norfolk, is at 18068 Serbin St., around the corner from Boykins Volunteer Fire Department and adjacent to buildings with the Narricot Industries plant.

A fire official said as of Friday evening the cause of the blaze had not yet been determined.

“When I got here the building was already fully involved,” Boykins Town Sgt. Willie Culpepper said. “There was fire coming out of the roof, and there was a big, black pillar of smoke.”

Smoke from the fire could be seen as far away as Franklin.

“There was a lot of flames and a lot of heat,” said Lloyd Bryant, who lives on Main Street just a couple blocks from the fire. “There was a small explosion earlier, around 11:20. You couldn’t help but see it. It was a really big, bright fire, with flames way high in the air. They were much higher than the building.”

The fire knocked out power to most of the Boykins area shortly after it started. Narricot sent its employees home at 1 p.m.

Dominion Virginia Power spokesman Chuck Penn said Friday the outage affected 1,228 customers. Power was restored to about 600 customers in 17 minutes and to the remaining customers just under three hours.

Boykins Volunteer Fire Department Lt. Waymon Davis said firefighters were pumping water from Tarrara Creek on Friday evening to help knock out remaining hot spots. He estimated the town’s water level had decreased from about 300,000 to 110,000 gallons.

“We didn’t want to get much lower than that so we had to start shuttling water, pumping it out of the creek,” Davis said. “The fire didn’t knock out water to the town, but it got low enough where we had to use an alternative source.”

Firefighters also sprayed water to the roof of an adjacent building at 18070 Serbin St. to keep it from catching fire.

Scott Freeman, president of Dolphin Fixtures, arrived on the scene just before 2 p.m. as the former warehouse was still smoldering. He was more than an hour away in Virginia Beach at the time of the blaze. People sent pictures to his cell phone when the fire was raging.

Freeman said his company purchased the warehouse 12 years ago and had since purchased the former Aster Nut Products building across the street.

“We do store fixtures, shelving, racking, mannequins and showcases,” Freeman said. “(The warehouse) was backup inventory for us.”

Natalie East, store and warehouse manager for Dolphin Fixtures, said employees were at the warehouse on Thursday afternoon.

“They left at 3:30 and everything was fine,” East said.

East said the warehouse, which she estimated to be about 22,000 square feet, was full of materials at the time of the blaze.

“It was full, cramped and we had no room to move,” she said. “We just started putting up racking and stuff (at the Aster Nut building) so we could start getting spread out to be able to move again.”

Freeman said two walk-behind electric forklifts were in the building at the time of the blaze.

Asked if there was anything flammable in the building, Freeman said, “We couldn’t remember if there was. I used to have a propane tank years ago but we switched to electric forklifts. When the fire department asked me if there was anything flammable in there, I couldn’t recall anything other than the possibility of an old propane tank.”

Bystanders said they heard a small explosion during the early moments of the fire.

Davis said firefighters and rescue personnel from 10 Virginia jurisdictions responded to the blaze, including Boykins, Branchville, Drewryville, Newsoms, Courtland, Franklin, Hunterdale, Sedley, Carrsville and Emporia-Greensville County.

He added that seven North Carolina communities also sent personnel: Severn, Como, Murfreesboro, Margarettsville, Seaboard, Winton and Millennium fire departments.

Freeman and East, both in a state of shock, thanked firefighters and rescue personnel who were resting under a nearby tent and purchased them refreshments.

(Charlie Passut is a Staff Writer with the Tidewater News in Franklin, Va., a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.)