Industrial park fire that torched Isle of Wight warehouse ruled accidental
Published 3:12 pm Thursday, January 18, 2024
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.
According to Isle of Wight County Fire and Rescue Chief Garry Windley, the fire has been ruled accidental but an “exact cause is undetermined,” Windley told The Smithfield Times in a Jan. 22 email.
The warehouse, which has been ruled a total loss, had housed roughly a dozen tenants, including Walker’s employer, Complete Auto.
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.
Windley, in his Jan. 19 news release, said contractors remained on the scene into the night to ensure water runoff and potential hazardous materials were contained to the immediate area. The containment efforts “eliminated any risk of hazardous material exposure to the public,” Windley said.
According to Walker, compressed air tanks were among the materials stored inside the warehouse.
“When you heat up compressed air, it tends to explode,” Walker said.
One civilian and one firefighter reported minor injuries; both were treated at the scene and released. There were no additional injuries reported.
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management assisted with managing any potential hazardous material runoff and, according to Windley, had determined as of just after noon the day of the fire that there was no risk to the public regarding air quality.
Early news reports said the fire began with an explosion in an area of the warehouse that housed Stuarts Marine, a boat repair business. The company, however, posted to its Facebook page on Jan. 19 that the fire had actually started in an adjacent unit.
Ten agencies, including Carrolton’s Volunteer Fire Department and units from Smithfield’s, Rushmere’s and Windsor’s VFDs, the Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad and nearby departments from neighboring Suffolk and Surry responded.
The scene was turned back over to the warehouse’s owner, Bobby Weeks, the morning of Jan. 19. The owner will be working with the DEQ to complete additional hazardous material cleanup if needed, the county news release states.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Jan. 19 and at 4:18 p.m. on Jan. 22 with additional details.