Firefighters worked through much of the night and smoke continued to rise from Universal Rubber Company off NC16-Business early Monday morning after a Sunday afternoon fire destroyed the business. Traffic on NC16-Business, which had been diverted onto North Pilot Knob Road was allowed to use the highway again early Monday.
The fire started just before 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon when someone burning debris on Deer Track Lane a short distance away let their fire get out of control. East Lincoln Fire Department was called and quickly asked for help as the wind blew the fire beyond a control area.
The fire spread to Universal Rubber Products at 7780 Forest Oak Drive, behind the Novant Health location on NC16-Business. Eventually over a dozen fire departments from Lincoln, Gaston, and Mecklenburg counties would answer the call for assistance. Lincoln County departments were also battling other smaller grass fires at other locations, reducing the number of firefighters who could answer the call during the early going.
"We were hampered by the windy conditions that we had as well as the limited man power," said Dion Burleson of the Denver Fire Department, who acted as the spokesperson for Lincoln County Emergency Management.
Three to four acres in the field where the fire started were burned. Several vehicles were also reported to have burned. The heavy smoke certainly caused damage to nearby homes and power was off to several during the night.
Firefighters said there were two explosions at the Universal Rubber Products building. The mother of the owner told the Lincoln Herald that one of those was likely a propane tank near a conveyor belt and the other was probably oxygen tanks. There were four of those on the premises, but two were out back of the building and were empty.
Flames could be seen shooting through the roof when we arrived on the scene shortly before 5 PM Sunday. Two firemen were being examined by EMS workers when we arrived. One of the explosions had forced them back. "We just slid back on the oil," one of the firemen told this reporter.
One Sheriff's Deputy was treated and released at the hospital after being overcome by the heavy smoke. EMS examined several firefighters who were suffering from significant smoke inhalation but they did not need to be transported.
When this reporter left the scene shortly before 7 PM to post our story on the fire, more fire trucks were still arriving to help.
Southbound traffic on NC16-Business was rerouted onto North Pilot Knob Road at Hager's Ferry Road and traffic was also blocked on NC16-Business north at the NC73 intersection, but the roads were all reopened by 7 AM Monday.
The fire is under investigation, but it appears to have been the result of an unfortunate decision to burn debris on a dry, windy day.
Universal Rubber Products, owned by Cotton Davis and run by his father, had been operating in the Forest Oak Drive location for 20 years. The company, which employed 10 people, was founded 28 years ago and began its operation just north of that location.
Davis's mother told the Lincoln Herald that most Sundays a female worker might have been inside the building, but she was not working Sunday.
A temporary shelter was offered at East Lincoln High School but most displaced residents from nearby homes found overnight lodging with friends and family. No one was using the shelter early Monday.
Your Lincolnton-Lincoln County Online News Source for News, Sports, Opinion, Obituaries, Religion, Classifieds, Events, Photo, Community, Coupons and Police Scanner. Serving Lincoln and surrounding counties including the areas of Lincolnton, Denver, Maiden, Stanley, Alexis, Vale, Crouse, Iron Station, High Shoals and Cherryville and other nearby areas of Lincoln, Catawba, Gaston and Cleveland counties.
Not a newspaper, not a magazine, we’re online – on your computer at home or work, on your smartphone… with news and more 24 hours every day, seven days each week, every day of the year including holidays