Worker recalls moments before Industrial Park fire in Isle of Wight

Published 3:17 pm Thursday, January 18, 2024

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The first sign of trouble Andrew Walker recalls was a loud “bang.”

Then he saw flames coming through the walls of the automotive shop where he works.

“It blew me up against the door,” said Walker, who escaped unscathed from a fire that burned through a 23,000-square-foot warehouse in Isle of Wight County’s industrial park off Benns Church Boulevard on Jan. 18.

The warehouse houses roughly a dozen tenants, including Walker’s employer, Complete Auto. and Field of Dreams Gymnastics.

“Thankful that no one was in the gym at the time,” Field of Dreams Coach Barry Keeley posted to the gym’s Facebook page on Thursday afternoon. “We are growing fast and have become ‘battle hardened’ and we will fight on.”

The fire began around 10 a.m. and was declared under control at 1 p.m., though the building was still smoldering at that time.

“There’s not one spot of that building that’s not on fire,” Walker said, standing outside the charred warehouse’s remains.

Isle of Wight County Fire and Rescue Chief Garry Windley, in a news release issued just before 2 p.m., said crews will remain on-scene to control hot spots and flare-ups that may continue throughout the evening.

One civilian and one firefighter reported minor injuries; both were treated at the scene and released.

Isle of Wight County declared a state of local emergency at 11:40 a.m. due to the “potential release of hazardous material” stored at the warehouse, according to a news release the county issued just after 12:30 p.m. According to Walker, compressed air tanks are among the materials stored inside the warehouse.

“When you heat up compressed air, it tends to explode,” Walker said.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management is assisting with managing any potential hazardous material runoff and, according to Windley, has determined there is no risk to the public regarding air quality.

“Everybody is evacuated,” Walker said. “At this point we don’t know exactly what caused the fire or where the fire started.”

According to the county, the fire was reported at approximately 10:20 a.m. Ashlynne Bracy, a firefighter with Carrollton’s Volunteer Fire Department, said she’d arrived at the scene around 11 a.m.

In addition to Carrollton, units from Smithfield’s, Rushmere’s and Windsor’s volunteer fire departments, the Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad and nearby departments from neighboring Suffolk and Surry responded.

The incident remains under investigation.