Crossett Fire Chief Says Water Turned Off At Mill Before Massive Fire

CROSSETT, Ark.-- We learned new information Thursday about a massive fire last Saturday in South Arkansas. 

The fire at Crossett's closed Georgia Pacific plywood mill destroyed not just the building but also more than 1000 feet of the fire department's hoses. 

Crossett's fire chief gave our reporter Price McKeon a look at the damage he is trying to tally up. 

Fire Chief Bo Higginbotham also revealed new, surprising information about the investigation. 

He told us that just two days before the flames soared hundreds of feet into the sky he met with the contractors that were demolishing the mill after learning they had shut off the water at the mill. 

Higginbotham showed us the damaged gear. 

He said, "You got little holes burned in here."

We saw a fire hose split into two pieces and mangled metal. It all reminded locals of the flames less than a week ago. 

Jimmy Jeffress has lived in Crossett all his life. 

He said, "It's sad but we'll continue. We'll continue."

The former state senator shot video of the massive fire that blanketed smoke around his hometown. 

Jeffress said, "I heard all the emergency sirens and everything from first responders going off and it sounded like what I can imagine it sounded in NYC on 9-11."

We talked with him at his house which is about a mile drive from what is left of the mill. 

He described debris he found in his yard from the massive fire, "They didn't weigh a quarter of an ounce. (It was) Something that large. They were about 2 inches thick."

Less than 6 days later the debris around his neighborhood is gone but the damage in the town remains.

The city's fire chief said, "When we backed out the debris got real heavy in that caused it to catch on fire."

He showed us a hose that now sits in two pieces at the station. 

Higginbotham said his worst fear came true when contractors demolishing the mill sparked the fire. 

"So the sprinklers weren't charged. The hydrants weren't charged. We had found out a few days before that that they had shut the water off," he told us. 

He said firefighters first fought the flames with one city fire hydrant across from the mill and across Highway 82. 

"I knew when I pulled out of the out of my driveway to go to the fire. I heard them on the radio make the phone call and tell them to turn on the water and I knew then where the fire was," he said. 

A small, south Arkansas city that rallied after the mill closed about 6 years ago will not stop rallying. 

Jeffress said, "Getting through the shutdown and the loss of jobs, etc., etc."

That city now hit again. 

"We finally had gotten over that (the mill closing) somewhat and now to have the mill actually the old plant burn down is like putting a period or an exclamation mark at the end of it."

The small fire department made up of about 21 employees kept the massive fire contained to just the mill using only 4 hydrants. There were no reported injuries, according to the fire department. 

The fire chief said he feels his department has enough equipment to fight any fire, but if they don't he said he knows the surrounding fire departments will help them out just like last weekend. 

He said he is working on compiling a list of what needs to replaced and he hopes to have his fire trucks stocked back to full capacity soon.


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