EAST LAURINBURG – Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of a Monday night fire that began at the site of the old Waverly Mill plant and spread to a nearby house.
Smoke continued to shroud much of East Laurinburg throughout the day Tuesday as the structures continued to smolder, but not burn.
Officials said there was no danger to homes in the area.
Fire crews responded to a structure fire at around 9 p.m. Monday and arrived to find burning rubble from the demolition of the former textile plant at the corner of Eighth and Commonwealth streets.
Nearly 50 firefighters from Laurinburg, Wagram and Stewartsville, worked until the early hours of Tuesday to extinguish the blaze.
But not before the huge fire spread to a vacant house across the street from the mill.
“While we were here we had an abandoned house catch on fire,” said Lt. Jordan McQueen with the Laurinburg Fire Department. “We are unable to determine if maybe an ember set it or somebody set it.”
No injuries were reported, and the fire was under control by 10:45 p.m.
Still Debbie Clark appeared upset up by the proximity of the flames to her home.
“We had to leave because the house next to us was on fire,” she said Monday night. “I could feel the heat in my room. I hope our house will be OK.”
Clark’s home sustained minor damage when heat from the fire at the abandoned home melted and warped the shutters and siding.
Cindy McGee, who has lived on Eighth Street since 2004, was initially fearful for herself and her neighbors.
“I saw that smoke and thought what in the world and I hope everyone is safe,” she said. “I’m scared it could spread to our house. I’m getting ready to get my dog and my cat in the house and let my two that are in a pen out so we can find shelter somewhere.”
McQueen said fire officials will continue to assess the remaining fire until it is out.
“We’re coming to make sure there’s no flying embers and making sure it stays inside the containment wall,” McQueen said.
It was difficult for crews to fully extinguish the blaze due to the size of the area and the fact that the debris lay below ground level in what would have been the plant’s basement, according to McQueen.
“We extended our ladder truck out a hundred foot across the top which only equaled about half of the pile,” McQueen said. “We put a good amount of water on it until 3 a.m. this morning.”
Crews saturated the remains of the mill as well as they could leaving a few hot-spots toward the back of the pile which they felt could be left unattended. But the embers, aided by a breeze, reignited and began to burn back toward the street by early Tuesday afternoon.
“Without pulling the stuff out to separate it we can’t really do anything with it,” McQueen said.
The fire department will continue to monitor the situation around the clock until the fire burns itself out and to make sure there is no threat to the neighborhood.
“The actual fire threat will probably be gone by late this afternoon,” McQueen said Tuesday.
Neighbors believe the fire was deliberately set by teenagers seen in the area.
“I heard it was a couple of teenagers that kept riding by the plant before the fire started,” said John Paul Lee, who came to check on his sister’s house that was several yards away from the fire.
The investigation into the cause of the fire was turned over to the Scotland County Sheriff’s Office Monday night.
Major Ruben Castellon with the sheriff’s office said the investigation is continuing, but arsons are particularly hard to solve, especially in the absence of suspects or hard evidence.
“Just like any investigation, it’ll be assigned to an investigator and hopefully we can make contact with somebody that might have been able to see something,” he said.
Castellon asked for the public’s help.
“If you know anybody that’s involved in this crime or any other crime, any and all help will be highly appreciated because this can happen to anybody,” Castellon said.
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169. Scott Witten contributed to this report.