Thomson’s Georgia-Pacific facility has been left with 80 percent damage after a five-day fire raged across the site. The county is currently working on how to deal with the aftermath.
The fire began around 2 p.m. in a raw materials storage building on May 29. At first, the facility’s automatic deluge system triggered. However, after the large sprinklers could not contain the fire, Georgia-Pacific Media Representative Rick Kimble said help was called in.
“That system was activated and it worked the way it was designed to work, but it was a little too late,” he said.
McDuffie Fire Rescue and Thomson Fire received the dispatch at 2:55 p.m. Around 20 employees were evacuated from the site, said Kimble.
According to McDuffie County Commission Chair Charlie Newton, who was acting as the public information officer, no Georgia-Pacific employees were injured.
After firefighters began battling the fire, it grew to the point that it spread to other buildings. By the late evening, firefighters had switched from offensively attacking the fire inside to keeping the fire contained from the outside. Spoke pillowed out from the buildings and blocked visuals of them. Water shortages soon became a concern.
At one point, Newton said that firefighters reported that they would need 15,000 gallons of water per minute over six hours to put the fire out.
“We simply do not have that capability,” Newton said.
So, the county requested assistance from outside fire departments. At least 15 fire departments from around the region and beyond responded.
“Within a 30-mile radius, if there was a fire department, they came,” Newton said. “We greatly appreciate the relationship with surrounding counties. Without their help, it would have been a horrible situation that turned into a dire one.
In the late evening of May 29, firefighters were staged at Thomson High School. They were provided food and drink to fuel up. Firefighters then worked shifts throughout the night to deal with the situation.
On May 30, in cooperation with the Columbia County Fire Department, a mobile operations center was set up at Georgia-Pacific.
McDuffie County Fire Chief Stephen Sewell said tankers provided water to help keep the fire contained. Newton said that after the tanks initially depleted, tanks refilled at local water sources like Sweetwater Park’s pond and a raw water pond at one of McDuffie County’s water treatment plants.
During the firefighting efforts, Newton said that two firefighters suffered from heat exhaustion and dehydration. However, after going to the hospital and receiving treatment, Newton said they were fine.
On June 2, firefighters were finally able to extinguish the fire, Newton said. McDuffie County Fire Chief Sewell reported that around 80 percent of the facilities were damaged by the fire. Since firefighters were able to keep chemicals on scene from being compromised, Newton said the health and environmental effects should be no different than a forest fire.
Now that the fire situation has been handled, Georgia-Pacific officials can go back in and assess damages. On Monday, Newton said that the county planned do anything to support the company in this situation.
“We want them to stay if at all possible and make them comfortable with deciding to stay here instead of moving facilities somewhere else,” he said.
On June 4, Georgia-Pacific announced it departure from Thomson.