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Official apologizes for fire at old plant

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By Jesef Williams

Franklin Truesdale was performing maintenance on his vehicle Feb. 23 when smoke filled the air.

Truesdale, who lives on Brooklyn Avenue, later learned a fire had been burning and the smoke was coming from the old Springs Industries’ Lancaster Plant in the neighborhood.

Truesdale worried the smoke could lead to breathing complications for people in the area.

“The smoke got so bad, it was terrible at times,” he said.

James Ballard, who works in the area, said he wasn’t particularly concerned about the smoke, though. He thought somebody was burning trash in their yard.

“I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to it,” Ballard said. “It wasn’t anything that scared me.”  

The city of Lancaster, which owns half of the property, was trying to burn wood from buildings demolished at the site, City Administrator Helen Sowell said.

To save money, instead of hauling the wood off, the city tried to burn it, which city Fire Chief Chris Nunnery believes the fire department had the permission to do.

Soon after the fire department started the fire the morning of Feb. 23, it realized the wood wouldn’t burn as quickly as expected. That may have been because the wood was so old and it contained more moisture that anticipated, Nunnery said.

Within two hours of burning, the fire department doused the flames, leading to smoke that rose above the plant and spread throughout the neighborhood.

Nunnery said someone in the neighborhood contacted the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to express concern about what was going on.

By the time DHEC arrived, the fire had been put out, Nunnery said.

“It’s like a regular fire,” he said. “I don’t think the hazard was that great at the time.”

Sowell said the city apologizes for any inconvenience. She wants residents of the neighborhood to know the city is removing the wood to improve the appearance of the community.

“It started out as a good deed and turned into something we had to kill,” Sowell said about the fire. “Our fire department – they come to work every day trying to protect citizens. They didn’t mean any ill will.”

DHEC spokeswoman Clair Boatwright said the agency came to the area and is looking into the fire. She wouldn’t go into detail about the case.  

“We did respond with staff,” Boatwright said. “A fire was burning. It’s an air-quality issue.”

The city now owns about half of the property where the Lancaster Plant  was situated. It is planning to convert a three-story building that remains on the property into a satellite office for the police department, the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office and area nonprofit agencies.

The other half of the land is owned by KMAC, the firm that tore down the old mill and salvaged much of its building materials.

The city hopes to acquire this land and develop a community park there in the future, Sowell said.

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152