The structure was a two-story metal and wood framed abandoned warehouse in the 600 block of E. Main St. in Lancaster. Firefighters received the call at 4:41 p.m.
When firefighters arrived on scene, they called additional assistance, said Opal Mauldin-Robertson, Lancaster's city manager, who was on scene acting as spokesperson for the incident.
“This was two-story, vacant and unoccupied building,” Mauldin-Robertson said. “At this time, we have no knowledge of any occupants. There have been no reports of injuries.”
Heavy smoke could be seen from Interstate 35E and the H-E-B parking lot in Waxahachie. At least three ladder trucks were in operation and Dallas Fire Rescue, Lancaster, Waxahachie, Ovilla, Glenn Heights, DeSoto, Hutchins and Red Oak firefighters were on scene to battle the blaze.
“We have a unique situation. We have an automatic aid agreement with them (Lancaster). Anytime they get a tone for a structure fire there, structure fire tones set off our station speakers. So we get notified immediately of the fire,” Eric Thompson, Red Oak fire chief, said. “From our station it was very obvious that it was a working fire because we saw the thick heavy black smoke showing from out station. They requested a ladder because they knew it was going to be a large fire.”
About 10 minutes later additional assistance was requested from the incident commander who called out for a third alarm, which called everybody else in Ellis County to the scene, Thompson said.
Firefighters fought the fire defensively from the outside and did not enter the structure do to the dangers and unknown hazards inside.
“There was still a lot left over materials inside. There was a lot of polyurethane and a lot of wood. The police right off the bat early on told us to be careful because there were hazardous chemicals in there. It was also determined that there was a very large basement in there,” Thompson said. “It was a joint concern that we didn’t want anybody inside the building because the basement was unknown what was in there. It had been vacant for 20 something years and the heavy magnitude of fire that was showing. The structure was starting to fail at points from all the heat. It was not worth putting people inside the building.”
Thompson estimates the structure was around 50,000 square feet.
When crews arrived on scene getting hose lines set up the railroad line near the building was shut down briefly. During the course of the fire firefighters faced several challenges.
“One challenge that we did have because we had so many ladder pipes and master streams operating that we had some water pressure issues initially. The incident commander called the city and they turned on the pumps to increase the pressure and that helped a bit,” Thompson said. “Challenges throughout were the building construction and getting to seat of the fire. We were extending the ladder trucks as far as we could. We were using straight bore nozzles to use water to penetrate deep into the building. It was time consuming but it worked.”
To get more water inside the building firefighters cut openings in the side of the building us a K-12 circular saw, Thompson said.
Members of the Lancaster police blocked off portions of Main Street and provided traffic control to allow firefighters to work the call safety.
“We heard the fire engines come by. When we first came out, by the time I got down here, flames were like 20 feet in the air. It was full engulfed,” Main Street resident Sheila Hayes said. “This building has been here for many years. I used to go into it in the late 1970’s. It was a craft store. Since then, there was a man that put antique furniture in there, but he moved out about a year ago. It had been vacant, but someone had been redoing it.”
Fellow East Main Street resident Blake Bryan was at work in DeSoto when the fire broke out Friday afternoon.
“I work over at Chuck Fairbanks Chevrolet and I could see the smoke. I saw it about 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. I was wondering where it was coming from because it looked pretty close to my house,” Bryan said. “For half a second, I thought it might be this place, but then I was like, ‘No, no way.” Can’t say that I have expected it. It is normally a pretty quite neighborhood.”
Freda Dillard, who lives in another part of Lancaster, saw the smoke from her home.
“Like the rest of town, I came dashing over here. I think that everybody’s concern was that they saw the concern and it was in the area of the square. We don’t have much of a square that is left anymore,” Dillard said. “I was at home and saw the smoke and came down here to see what was going on. I am glad that it is not any more serious then it is.”
The point of origin and cause of fire is unknown at this time and the fire is being investigated by Lancaster Fire Marshal David Terry. Red Oak Firefighters cleared the scene around midnight.