Lt. Adam Gardner and Fire Inspector Joe Hassell said multiple witnesses reported seeing lightning strike the Eva Jane building during a thunderstorm immediately before the fire broke out.
“I talked to several of them, and they said there were actually three bolts of lightning,” Hassell said. “They said there was one over there close to some houses, one that hit the building itself and then one by the machine shop that hit the ground. They said you could see electricity running across the ground.”
Also, a rubber roof covering aided the fire’s acceleration, allowing it to pass over the firewalls and spread to other parts of the building. Firefighters battled for nearly seven hours to keep the inferno from reaching further.
“It took about 45 minutes to an hour to come up with a definite plan,” Gardner said. “Once we came up with the plan, we set up for it and stayed there with it. Luckily, it worked.”
Sylacauga Fire arrived at the scene around 12:30 p.m. Gardner said they reported the fire “under control” around 7 p.m.
Along with Sylacauga, 14 other fire departments responded: Talladega, Childersburg, Burney Station, County Line, Goodwater, Hollins, Ironaton, Munford, Oak Grove, Renfro, Stemley, Stewartville, Sycamore and Winterboro. Gardner expressed gratitude on behalf of the entire department for their assistance.
“Without the other departments, we would not have been able to set out the goal we wanted to accomplish,” Gardner said. “We had 12 volunteer departments to respond and help us, and then we had the Talladega Fire Department and personnel from Childersburg.”
Firefighters remained at the site the following two days and returned during the weekend to make sure nothing rekindled. No one was injured throughout the ordeal.
Other responders included Sylacauga Police, Sylacauga Ambulance, Talladega County Sheriff’s Department and the Coosa Valley Rescue Squad. Alabama Power, Sylacauga Utilities, Merkel Wrecker, Norfolk Southern, Allen Oil and the State Fire Marshal’s Office also provided assistance.
At least 15 local restaurants and businesses provided food and drinks for the emergency responders as well, and city employees chipped in by helping collect and distribute it.
Mayor Sam Wright also credited everyone who took part in the effort, particularly Sylacauga’s bravest.
“Our folks worked long, hard hours,” Wright said. “And they didn’t complain. They just did their job, and did more than was asked of them. When I first saw the fire … I thought to myself, ‘How in the world will they ever get control of it.’
“You can’t brag enough about our guys, and I can’t thank the people enough who came to our rescue, the merchants that helped us and everybody else. It took a lot of people.”
Contact Matt Quillen at email@example.com.