Firefighters and investigators returned Friday morning to the scene of a devastating fire in a Smithfield cabinet shop where they will assess the damage and attempt to learn the cause of the fire.
The fire was reported at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday night, and Smithfield Fire Chief Jay Downs said firefighters arrived on scene within two minutes. When they arrived, the structure was fully involved in fire, and flames impeded access to the building.
Premier Cabinets is located at 700 North Main, on the far north end of Smithfield, on a long narrow lot on the east side of U. S. 91 between One Way Transmissions and Castle View Manor.
Downs said there is a 20-foot driveway on the south side of the structure, but firefighters were unable to make their way down the driveway with their engines due to the intensity of the fire.
“The fire was coming out across driveway — where we needed to go, the fire was there,” he said.
Firefighters called out a second alarm and asked law enforcement to shut down the highway to give them access to another fire hydrant and a place to stage fire trucks from at least a half a dozen fire departments.
Downs said firefighters tapped into a total of four hydrants for a defensive attack on the fire. The fire was quickly contained, but it was an hour and a half to two hours before they had it under control, he said.
Meanwhile, law enforcement officers were tasked with evacuating nearby townhomes, providing traffic control and keeping a watchful eye on the crowd of people that gathered to watch the blaze.
There are three townhomes located directly south of the cabinet shop, just on the other side of the driveway, with four households in each structure.
The people living in those residences were evacuated to a nearby church, where they could stay warm until they were allowed to re-enter their homes.
According to Downs, those structures — just 50 feet from the burning building — were a concern to firefighters, and part of their work Thursday night was to monitor conditions there to make sure the the fire didn’t spread.
The vinyl fence bordering the rear of the townhome properties melted, and the heat radiating off the cabinet shop broke out a couple of windows, Downs said.
Property managers reportedly planned to board those windows up right away so the occupants could return home.
“Considering large amount of pedestrian traffic, we literally didn’t have to do a lot in the way of crowd control,” Smithfield Police Sgt. Gary Bunce said Friday morning. “It was just nice to see that they were supporting us by not becoming part of the problem.”
Vehicle traffic was not overly heavy but there were so many access points in the surrounding area that it required eight officers to help reroute traffic while U.S. 91 was closed.
“They had two or three hoses going across there and they couldn’t let people go through there,” Bunce said.
Downs said firefighters were on scene working on hotspots until 2:30 a.m., and one truck remained on scene through the night.