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Grimes Mill salvage begins; cause of fire may never be clear

SALISBURY — One week after a five-alarm fire destroyed Grimes Mill, local historians have started the slow process to recover what they can from the ruins before clearing the site and determining its future use.
“We are going to try to salvage as much as possible — artifacts, gears, equipment. Try to save what we can for interpretation,” said Brian Davis, executive director for Historic Salisbury Foundation.
Salisbury police and fire officials have not yet determined the cause of the fire that destroyed the 117-year-old structure. They have turned the site back over to the foundation, which owns the property and had planned to resume tours in March.
Doug Black, volunteer property manager for the foundation, had a crew on hand Wednesday to carefully pull items from the burned-out remains. They filled the bed of a small pickup truck and will store the items until the foundation can put them on display.
Black said he expects the salvage operation and subsequent clearing to continue for up to two months.
“We are going to go painstakingly slow,” he said. “Not only because we don’t want to miss anything during the process but also for safety.”
The foundation has no immediate plans for the property, but Black said one option is to sell it.
Davis said he has no estimate yet on the price for clearing the property. Foundation officials were scheduled to meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to move forward.
Davis said he plans to offset the cost of the cleanup by recycling and selling material from the mill. The metal has value, and thousands of red bricks may be worth something to people who want a piece of Grimes Mill as part of their landscaping or other decorative use.
“We are trying to keep as much out of the landfill as possible,” Davis said.
The property is surrounded by a security fence.
Davis said investigators have determined that the fire started in the back corner of the mill, but there’s a chance they will not be able to pinpoint how it began.
“The building has been so severely burned and there was so much water pumped into it, lots of things were lost,” he said. “We may never know what caused it.”
The investigation continues, and city spokeswoman Elaney Hasselmann said she expects authorities to issue a statement within a few days.
While cleanup is the foundation’s responsibility, Davis said, the city may pitch in with labor and equipment.
“The city approached us about how they may be able to help,” he said.
At its peak production in the 1930s, Grimes Mill produced about 100 barrels of flour a day. A fleet of foundation volunteers had been working daily to clean and restore the mill and get some of the machinery working again.
Black said volunteers invested 1,800 hours in cleaning, repairing, preserving old wood, replacing windows and frames and checking wiring.
The foundation had opened a thrift shop at the mill to help raise money for educational equipment and print displays in preparation for tours resuming in March.
Only a few roller mills remain in the country, including one in China Grove.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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