Fire tears through auto parts business

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Click the play button to watch a video from the United4 Inc. fire suppression and knockdown effort.

ELM CITY­— A used automotive parts business sustained major damage in a fire Thursday afternoon.

The fire damaged a building and other property at United4 Inc., located at 4510 U.S. 301 about a mile and a half south of Elm City.

The Toisnot Rural Fire Department responded to the fire about 1:15 p.m.

“We had fire showing on the side of the structure fully involved,” said James Parker, a senior firefighter with the Toisnot Rural Fire Department. “It was burning pretty bad when we got here. Most of the fire seemed to be on the outside.”

The business specializes in dismantling automobiles, used parts hauling, buying used cars and selling used car parts.

Parker said two Toisnot firefighters began fire suppression on the building and were soon backed up by crews arriving from the East Nash Fire Department.

“We were using inch and a half (hose) just when we got here just because of manpower issues with two men,” Parker said. “When East Nash engine showed up they used the large deluge gun and did most of the knockdown.”

“That was a large amount of fire,” said George Womble, of the East Nash Volunteer Fire Department, who arrived and engaged the deluge gun from the top of the engine.

“Our motto is, ‘Big Fire, Big Water,’” Parker said.

“It dumps a lot of water,” Womble said. “We depleted our water but we wanted to put as much water on it as we could to go ahead and black it out and keep it from spreading over to the unburned side of the building. With 1,000 gallons of water that we carry, when you put that large amount of water on it it’s not going to last long, but it put enough on it to black it out.”

“We might have three or four minutes on the truck with water supply using the inch and a half,” said Parker. “When they use that jet gun, it narrows it down to seconds,”

Parker said the big gun covers more area, but, you need water to supply it.

Parker said other fire departments assisted in shuttling water to the fire from a hydrant located across U.S. 301 from the fire scene while the N.C. Highway Patrol blocked traffic in one lane.

“In certain rural areas of the county, we have to shuttle in water because the hydrants are so far away,” Parker said. “So we drop this tank in front of the primary engine and we will have these tankers here shuttle in the water and go to the hydrant and fill up.”

With a number of cars in the area of the fire, there was the potential that the fire could be exposed to gas tanks.

“It was a lot of black smoke,” Womble said. “There was a trailer out here and I don’t know what all was in the trailer, but there were some tires involved and that’s where all that black smoke was coming from making it look so bad.”

Parker said the heat caused parts of the steel building to bend, making the structure unsafe for the firefighters.

“When it bends, it gets weak,” Parker said.

Parker said none of the 30 firefighters who responded to the fire were injured.

Firefighters from the Bakertown, Silver Lake, Sharpsburg, Contentnea and Conetoe fire departments assisted their Toisnot and East Nash counterparts.

“We also had Wilson Fire/Rescue responding but we disregarded them because we got things under control,” Parker said. “So that was a big help there with our mutual aid agreement.”

The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office and Wilson Energy were also on the scene.

Gordon Deno, director of Wilson County Emergency Management, will be leading the investigation into the fire’s cause along with the Toisnot Rural Fire Department.

“There were 20 people working here at the time and nobody saw anything,” Deno said.

Parker said the Wilson County 911 Center did a good job relaying messages to get the other units en route.

“It’s kind of like textbook,” Parker said. “We don’t have to ask much. It helps out a whole lot.”