The owner of a downtown building gutted by fire early Monday was philosophical in his reaction the next day.
“We had plans, but God altered our plans,” Ben Webb said Tuesday after a blaze swept through the structure he had recently purchased at 207 Oak St. in downtown Mount Airy. The building, often known locally as “the old rope factory,” was built in 1946 as a tobacco warehouse.
An initial finding of “Accidental – Electrical” was cited as the cause for the fire.
“We haven’t determined what to do next,” said Webb. “It is tragic to lose a historic landmark in our town.”
Webb confirmed he previously had been taking steps to secure historic landmark status for the building.
“I truly appreciate our fire department and the first responders who worked so hard to keep the fire from spreading to the paper and the winery. They’re the real heroes in this, for what they did to keep our community safe,” Webb said.
In a media release issued late Monday afternoon, Mount Airy Fire Chief Zane Poindexter said two injuries could be attributed to the fire. Two firefighters, one with the Mount Airy Fire Department and one with the Cana (Virginia) Volunteer Fire Department suffered heat exhaustion and were transported to Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
“Both of them are back home and doing fine,” Poindexter said on Tuesday, adding that initial concerns that the Cana firefighter had suffered a cardiac event were not accurate. “Both were heat-related.”
Poindexter declined to name the two firefighters, citing federal regulations that prevent him from sharing personal medical data.
Mount Airy Fire Department was joined in investigating the fire by the N.C. Department of Insurance, Office of the State Fire Marshal and the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.
Poindexter said investigators from the Department of Insurance would be returning in the next couple of days to wrap things up for a final determination.
“It looks like it was a bathroom fan that caused it,” Poindexter said. “We’re still doing follow up, but there is nothing suspicious at all. Nothing at all.”
Poindexter said that eyewitness accounts of a charred Oak Street utility pole shooting sparks onto the building and the resulting speculation that a problem with the wiring on the pole might have caused the fire did not have any merit.
“Once the lines burned away from the building, they would have started arcing. That’s what people saw,” he said.
Before the blaze was put out, 62 firefighters joined in the effort. In addition to the Mount Airy Fire Department and Cana Volunteer Fire Department, eleven Surry County volunteer departments assisted in fighting the fire. They were Bannertown, Mountain Park, Franklin, Four Way, White Plains, South Surry, Pine Ridge, Pilot Knob, Central Surry, Westfield and Dobson.
Poindexter’s report states the first alarm was received at 5 a.m. The first unit arrived at 5:03 a.m., with a response time of two minutes, 20 seconds. The fire was brought under control at 10:02 a.m.
Damage to the building was estimated to be $156,000: $126,000 for the structure itself and $30,000 for contents.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.