Black smoke continued to billow up Monday from the historic Bellevue Mill in West Hillsborough, as materials buried under the building’s collapsed roof smoldered and burned.
Firefighters from eight Orange County stations worked into the weekend to contain the blaze. About two-thirds of the structure’s red-brick walls were still standing, Mayor Tom Stevens said.
The town is very interested in seeing the remaining part of the building preserved as best it can, he said.
“Being able to just even get to the materials is going to have some challenges, so we’re leaving that to the experts,” he said. “We’re talking about days, probably weeks, before we have more specific information.”
Orange Rural Fire Department was dispatched at 4:54 p.m. Friday to the former Bellevue Manufacturing Co. textile mill, at 202 S. Nash St. The northernmost and oldest of four mill buildings was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived. The fire was contained by about 7:20 p.m.
Firefighters were able to limit the damage to the mill’s northern end, leaving businesses in portions further south largely unaffected, Stevens said. There were no injuries.
“I just have to really commend the firefighters and all the responders,” he said. “This is what they trained for, and they just did an outstanding job of containing the fire loss to that one section of the structure.”
The State Bureau of Investigation, Hillsborough’s fire marshal and Hillsborough Police detectives plan to investigate the cause of the fire, with help from Orange Rural Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Marshal Division.
Fire hoses and the inward collapse of the building’s roof helped prevent the fire from spreading to other buildings, including an adjacent three-story section of the mill, said Orange Rural Fire Capt. Jeff Holden, who served as the operations captain for the incident.
“When we pulled up, I was pretty sure it was going to spread to the three-story section,” said Fire Capt. David Shaw, who served as incident commander. He noted that firefighters had difficulty reaching the fire due to overhead power lines at the front and northern sides of the building and a hill on the rear side that prevented them from getting firetrucks close to the building.
Hillsborough Fire Marshal Jerry Wagner also credited the mill’s firewalls, which roll into place as their fuseable links heat up, and the fact that the building was empty, leaving nothing else to burn.
The Bellevue mill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated by the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners as a local historic landmark. Its buildings date from the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s. The last occupant of the mill was Flynt Fabrics, which closed its Hillsborough operations in September 2000. The mill is slated to be renovated into apartments.
The property’s change in ownership has not yet been completed, Wagner said. No demolition or construction was underway on the planned apartments.
The Cedar Grove, Chapel Hill, Efland, Eno, Mebane, New Hope and Orange Grove fire departments helped with the fire, as did Orange County Emergency Services and the Orange County Fire Marshal Division. Hillsborough residents Megan Clode, Susan Fenwick and Denice Fisher used garden hoses to soak the fence line between the burning building and houses on Holt Street.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office helped provide traffic control with the Hillsborough Police Department, and South Orange Rescue Squad provided rehabilitation for emergency workers, ferrying water and food to them. Domino’s Pizza and Hillsborough BBQ Co. provided food for emergency workers, and Mystery Brewing Public House offered them beverages.