A major fire erupted Tuesday night at the former Culp Weaving Mill plant on East Parker Street in Graham. The fire ultimately necessitated what the city’s fire chief Tommy Cole called an “All Call,” in which fire units from every municipal and volunteer fire department across the county were called to the scene.
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The initial call came in at 9:17 p.m., the chief said.
Three aerial trucks – from Graham, Burlington, and Elon – tried to pump water in from on high. Water ultimately ran short, resulting in rural departments filling up at a fire hydrant in downtown Graham, Cole said in an interview with The Alamance News after other departments had left.
However, the strain on the water line ultimately caused it to burst, with workmen from the city’s public works department on hand to make repairs.
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THE FIRE AT FORMER CULP WEAVING PLANT, 300 E. PARKER ST., GRAHAM
At 2:00 a.m., they were awaiting crews from the gas company to disconnect gas lines in the area. East Harden Street at the corner with North Main will be closed, Kenny Hill of public works told the newspaper, in order to repair the main that runs under the roadway.
By 4:00 a.m., workmen had cut into the East Harden Street pavement to work on the water line.
Chief Cole speculated that the long-abandoned building would likely be a total loss. It was already in a deteriorated condition, so much so that the city has been assessing fines for its condition.
Cole expressed concern about whether water pressure from the fire departments’ hoses might have further damaged or weakened the already fragile walls of the structure.
While operating on scene there were two confirmed structural collapses within the first hour of firefighting operations, the Graham Fire Department later confirmed.
Cole is expecting an Alamance County arson task force to be on hand early Wednesday morning, along with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, to assess the damage and potential cause for the fire.
Trains were stopped from passing behind the building, lest fire trucks have hoses crossing the railroad tracks, Cole explained. Pomeroy Street was closed at the railroad tracks, as well.
The Culp Mill used to be one of Graham’s largest textile facilities, largest water users, and largest employers. But the factory has been vacant for several decades, used sporadically for storage.
Neighbors have complained that it has become a haven for vagrants and much speculation along the street during the fire was that it might have been started inadvertently by someone attempting to light a fire for cooking in the building.
The smell of the acrid smoke was present downtown around the Court House, more than a mile from the site of the fire for several hours after the height of efforts to contain it.