The cause of the fire had not been determined by 5 p.m. but could have been started by a lightning strike at the Eva Jane building. Sylacauga Firefighter Jarrod Cunningham said workers had been there before it began, but they did not believe anyone had been trapped or that any responders had been injured at that point.
A spokesman for Talladega County Emergency Management Agency said there did not appear to be any chemical or hazardous material concerns either.
Sylacauga firefighters arrived minutes after the fire was first reported around 12:30 p.m. Approximately 60 emergency responders also came to the site.
Cunningham said they expected to be there at least into the evening.
“They have been strategically placing the trucks to try and contain the fire as best they can, and keep it from spreading into the other buildings,” he said. “They have done a good job of that and are starting to get it contained now.
“They got it knocked down to the point where they could make entry into the buildings and assess what they need to do.”
By 1 p.m., the four-story Eva Jane structure had been reduced to a charred hull. Sounds of metal collapsing and windows bursting could be heard amongst the explosions inside the building.
The firefighters sprayed the surrounding buildings in their containment efforts, as brick walls collapsed into piles of scorched rubble. Bursts of flame shot 20 feet and higher from the top of the building’s remains and the heat could be felt from a quarter-mile away.
The black and gray smoke could be seen pouring into the sky from miles outside of the city.
There were not enough hydrants around the site to serve the water needs, so tanker trucks from the volunteer fire departments were used to supplement them. Four hours after the fire started, Cunningham estimated they had been running at approximately 4,000 gallons per minute.
Along the secured area, hundreds of people encircled the property as the long-standing plant burned. Former Avondale employees Catherine Stone, Willie Stone and Freddy Brooks were standing among the onlookers in a nearby parking lot.
“I just had to come over and see it,” Willie Stone said. “I spent most of my life in there. I worked 20 years the first time, stayed gone for eight and then came back and worked 10 more.
“It hurts our feelings, even being out of it for several years. I hate to see it go.”
Brooks said he worked for Avondale from 1987 until its closing in 2006.
“I hated to see it, but I think they were going to tear it down anyway,” he said. “Salvage the brick and whatever else they could salvage from it.”
Also around 5 p.m., Mayor Sam Wright and city employees worked to coordinate feeding efforts for the responders who had been at the site for more than four hours. He commended the city’s departments, and the other departments that came to their aid.
“I don’t know what we would do without the volunteer fire departments,” Wright said. “Their equipment is up to snuff, they know how to operate it and we just can’t appreciate them enough, and the other cities that responded. This is something that a town our size couldn’t imagine handling alone.”
Along with Sylacauga Fire and Police, Childersburg, County Line, Hollins, Ironaton, Oak Grove, Stemley, Stewartville, Sycamore and Talladega fire departments responded. The Talladega County Sheriff’s Department and Sylacauga Ambulance were also at the scene.
City officials and firefighters wanted to thank the local businesses who provided food and drinks, including Burger King, Domino’s, Home Depot, Jack’s, KFC, Marble City Grill, Piggly Wiggly and Walmart.
Contact Matt Quillen at email@example.com.