A Lincolnton firefighter received head injuries while responding to a Sunday morning fire at an abandoned, condemned textile mill, fire officials said.
The firefighter was taken to Carolinas Medical Center-Lincoln for treatment after Lincolnton Fire Chief Mitch Burgin said part of the building’s wall collapsed on the man’s face.
The incident took place around 3:30 a.m. at Massapoag Mill, located at 407 Massapoag Road in Lincolnton, fire officials said.
Firefighters had been removing part of the burned area inside the structure when the wall collapsed.
The agency first responded to an alarm call at a home on South Aspen Street after a resident smelled smoke in multiple rooms of the house, Burgin said.
It was later determined, through assistance from Lincolnton police, that the source of the smoke stemmed from the mill, not the home.
At that point, smoke had already dispersed throughout most of the area, according to fire officials.
Firefighters located a small campfire inside the mill, which had already burned through the floor and continued to smolder in the crawl space area underneath by the time crews arrived on site, Burgin said.
South Fork Fire Department provided mutual aid in the incident.
Firefighters were uncertain how long the fire had been burning and were on the scene for nearly six hours, removing portions of the burned floor.
Pieces were placed outside the mill to prevent potential flare-ups, Burgin said.
The injured firefighter was released from the hospital the same day and returned to work with the city department on Sunday evening.
Police and fire officials are currently working out how to keep additional fires from occurring at the site, which Burgin said has suffered damage on multiple occasions over the years, making the mill a community “eye-sore.”
While community members have begged he and his department to tear down the structure or let it burn, Burgin said the responsibility is not his and that allowing the building to burn would only create chaos, smoking up the entire town and wasting much-needed agency resources.
“We would be putting the whole neighborhood in jeopardy,” he said. “It is easier for us and safer for everybody if we get the fire out as quickly as possible and then let the proper authorities handle the legal issues.”
He believes it is part of his responsibility as fire chief to eliminate any hazards, including vacant and unsecured structures, that may harm firefighters, police or citizens and is fearful another incident at the site could turn out of control and cause even greater harm to first responders.
According to the Lincoln County Planning and Inspection Department’s Chief Building Official John Hutchins, his predecessor Wayne Godfrey condemned the building in 2007.
Massapoag Mill has also been deemed one of Lincolnton’s “signal 13″ structures, a label slapped on unstable city sites with the potential to put first responders in danger, Burgin noted.
About a dozen such buildings exist inside the city, according to fire officials, and due to potential safety hazards firefighters are not allowed to enter them, making it difficult for crews to battle blazes.
Burgin said fires are additionally challenging to extinguish at the mill due to the primary water source resting 1,200 feet away.
According to the City of Lincolnton’s Zoning Administrator Mark Carpenter, the decision to tear down the structure lies solely with the owner, Alex Moore, of Moore’s Upholstery in Lincolnton.
While Moore has tried to sell the mill to a salvage company, Burgin said, his efforts have been unsuccessful.
To date, the owner has also accrued more than $25,000 in fines after the city found the mill in violation of an ordinance related to abandoned structures, Carpenter said. Until the violation is corrected, fines will increase $500 per day.
Prior to Sunday’s incident, the mill suffered significant fire damage in June.
A firefighter also received injuries after a wall collapsed on him in the summer incident, fire officials said.
Three juveniles later confessed to accidentally dropping candles inside the mill, starting the summer blaze, and were charged in the case, police said.