Historic mill goes up in flames in Hillsborough

Saturday, May 21, 2016
Hillsborough fire
A massive fire destroys a former textile plant.

HILLSBOROUGH (WTVD) -- Fire crews battled a massive fire at the historic Old Bellevue Mill in Hillsborough on Friday.

The fire was largely contained as of Saturday afternoon, officials said in a statement. There were two small spots still smoldering that crews will continue to check on.

Smoke was seen billowing on Nash and Calvin streets on Friday afternoon. Chopper 11 HD was live on scene capturing the frantic efforts to extinguish the intense blaze.

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Firefighters battle a massive fire in Hillsborough.
Courtesy of Scott Paisley

Neighbors were in awe to see huge flames shooting into the sky, some even leaving their homes to get a closer look.

"We just got in our car and rode across the street and was just blocked in all directions to get over here." Leslie Hall said. "We were concerned about where it was."

Orange Rural Fire Department was dispatched at 4:54 p.m. for the fire, the Town of Hillsborough said.

The City said the northernmost and oldest of four mill buildings was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived.

Seven other departments responded, and the fire was contained by about 7:20 p.m., but firefighters said they'll be working overnight and into Saturday to control hot spots.

"It's impressive to see these firefighters at work," Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said. "It's clear that these mutual aid agreements we have are working."

Cedar Grove, Chapel Hill, Efland, Eno, Mebane, New Hope and Orange Grove all assisted in responding. Also assisting were Orange County Emergency Services and the Orange County Fire Marshal Division.

No injuries were reported.

Residential houses are within hundreds of feet of the burning building at 202 S. Nash St., but officials did not instruct residents to evacuate.

Firefighters estimated that 30,000 square feet of the old textile plant were destroyed. The roof collapsed about 30 minutes after the fire broke out, and removing fallen debris and controlling hot spots will be a priority for workers into Saturday.

Scott Paisley, owner of Nash Street Tavern in Hillsborough, spoke to ABC11, and said neighbors had their garden hoses out, trying to help attack the aggressive fire and protect their homes.

Paisley told ABC11 the Old Bellevue Mill was a textile mill that had been vacant for some years.

The mill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated by the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners as a local historic landmark. Its buildings date from the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s. The last occupant of the mill was Flynt Fabrics, which closed its Hillsborough operations in September 2000.

"It's certainly a tragedy about the building, but it appears nobody was hurt and no other buildings are being affected," the mayor said. "Thanks to the quick response, the fire did not spread to adjacent parts of the historic building. Job No. 1 is that people are safe."

There were plans to sell the building soon, and it was expected to be developed into apartment housing.

Vandalism and copper/metal thefts were a known occurrence on the grounds.

Firefighters say the fire is strange, but stopped short of calling it suspicious.

"It is unusual," said Jerry Wagner, the fire marshal. "Most of the time fires start in abandon buildings when you have a lightning strike, which we did not have."

It is expected to take at least until Sunday before firefighters can actually get inside the old building and investigate the cause of the fire.

The State Bureau of Investigation as well as Hillsborough's fire marshal and police detectives will investigate the cause of the fire, with assistance from Orange Rural Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Marshal Division, the City said.

The investigation is expected to take several weeks.

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