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Wilson, Texas cotton warehouse fire causes $3 million in damage, could smoulder for days

January 21, 2014   5:57 PM

A storage building for cotton bales at Fiber Brite Limited in Wilson was destroyed by a fire that started outside the building early Monday morning.


The debris of thousands of bales of cotton byproduct could smolder for several more days after a fire early this week caused more than $3 million in damage at a Wilson fiber plant. The Fiber Brite Ltd. plant has multiple storage buildings, and all of the contents of the one nearest the fire’s start were completely lost in the fire Monday morning, Jan. 20, said General Manager Mike Tomlinson. Fire crews on Tuesday were still monitoring the burning cotton byproduct under the rubble of a storage building at the plant. They expect the material will continue to burn for about three more days before it can be buried. “The stuff can smoulder for weeks and months, and so, really, the only way to keep it under control or suppress it is to dig a hole and move all of the smoldering material into the hole and bury it,” said David Maldonado, Wilson Volunteer Fire Department spokesman. About 14,000 to 15,000 cotton mote bales and one 130-by-400-foot storage building were destroyed by the fire. The plant’s main building caught re, but firefighters were able to save it, Maldonado said. Tomlinson said the fire consumed between a fourth and a third of the plant’s raw product, which is sold to spinning mills to make yarn for denim jeans and cotton shirts. Inventory is still being done to determine the exact loss, Tomlinson said. The company employs between 20 and 25 people and buys the waste from cotton gin mills throughout the High Plans to extract leftover cotton fibers from the cotton cleaning process. The fire likely started from a hot bale about 5 a.m. Monday, Maldonado said. A hot bale is a phenomenon during which an ember or other heat source gets baled in with the cotton mote and eats through the bale until it gets enough oxygen to start a fire, according to Steve Verett, Plains Cotton Growers executive vice president. Crews from five volunteer fire departments, Carlisle, O’Donnell, Slaton, Tahoka and Wilson, joined forces and battled the blaze for almost five hours before they were able to contain it.


Volunteers from the West Carlisle Volunteer Fire Department provided a rehabilitation unit for smoke inhalation, according to Maldonado. “Those entities did a fabulous job of controlling the fire and saving our main plant,” Tomlinson said. “They did a wonderful job; they were very professional very knowledgeable on how to handle the situation and did an excellent job.” Wilson fire crews watched the fire overnight to make sure it did not spread, Maldonado said. Tomlinson predicted the burned building will be demolished in the coming weeks and rebuilt shortly before next year’s cotton harvest.