History of fires at mill site
By Deirdre Parker Smith
A 1923 story about Arey Brick and Lumber Co. described the company as “one of the leading building material firms in the country, doing a large general business in lumber, brick, millwork and every description of building material.”
N.G. Arey, a Rowan County native, bought out the plant and yards of Nussman Brick and Lumber Co. He was joined by F.N. Tyack, who was also from the area.
Here’s some of the company’s history:
– 1939: The plant was consumed by a wind-driven fire when a night watchman discovered flames around 8:45 p.m. on a mid-December night. When firefighters arrived, the entire plant was in flames. Firefighters were there until 3 a.m. and used 294,000 gallons of water. Business resumed after the fire. Damages totalled $35,000.
The fire destroyed the planing, molding and finishing machines, storage quarters, a brick office building, warehouse and dry kiln. Two firetrucks were burned by blowing flames. More than 100 kegs of nails and thousands of window glasses were destroyed and two nearby houses caught fire but were saved. Business resumed after the fire.
– 1946: The firm was sold to the Tomlinson-Gregory Lumber Co.
– 1947: It was sold to Ree V. Goodman and associates for $122,000. Goodman changed the name to Salisbury Lumber and continued to make lumber and millwork and stock building materials.
– 1952: Southern Railway donated a brass locomotive whistle to Salisbury Lumber for use at the plant to keep the sound of old steam locomotives alive.
– 1959: In an eerie similarity to Friday’s fire, a fire started in the basement and was discovered by an employee coming to work at about 6:45 a.m. Visible from miles away, with flames rising hundreds of feet, it was called the worst blaze in Salisbury’s history.
By the time firefighters brought a hose up, it was too hot for them to go into the shop building.
The city used 500,000 gallons of water by 11 that morning. The building had no sprinkler system. At least eight alarms went out at the time.
The Salisbury Post headline read “Worst Blaze in History of City Ravages Salisbury Lumber’s Plant.”
George Raynor wrote: “The stories-high flames licked through the tree big, central buildings of the company with the east of a kid attacking an ice cream cone.”
Ree Goodman told Raynor he had between $125,000 and $135,000 in insurance, although damage estimates exceeded $200,000 mark.
Concrete block walls collapsed under the heat.
Only two fire hydrants were in use, so rural departments brought tanker trucks, which they refilled at W.A. Brown Co., then on South Main Street.
– 1998: Security guards at nearby businesses reported a fire at 9:22 p.m. on Nov. 15. Firefighters were able to stop it from spreading to the production part of the plant.
A heavy downpour helped, but it still took more than 45 minutes to knock the fire down. It started in a dust-collecting bin inside a wood shavings warehouse.
The fired burned through the two-story warehouse area and collapsed the roof. Firefighters used four pumper trucks, a ladder truck and a tanker. A masonry wall helped contain the fire. There were no injuries.
Norde Wilson, company president, witnessed that fire as well as the one on Friday. He praised the fire department for “a marvelous, fantastic job” for containing the fire quickly.
The company built a reputation for fine work over the years, ranging from churches to homes to Walt Disney World in Florida. One report says they sent special work as far as Hawaii.
After the 1998 fire, Rick Fesperman, then assistant fire chief, said rainy conditions such as Friday’s can hinder firefighters, creating muddy conditions they must battle, as well. Heavy weather holds smoke close to the ground.
The plant was cleaned up quickly after the ’98 fire and work resumed.