Fire continues to burn at Pilot Mountain tire plant

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PILOT MOUNTAIN, N.C. -- Crews battled a fire at New River Tire Recycling on old Highway 52 in Pilot Mountain Tuesday.

In the early morning, heavy smoke and flames spewed from the plant. Throughout the day, tires continued to burn and smoke continued to pour from the plant. Officials are letting the fire burn itself out.

The roof is partially collapsed and tires are burning. Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency in Charlotte are on scene.

The fire started at about 1:15 a.m. Tuesday and officials say the fire may not be completely out until sometime early Wednesday morning.

According to Surry County Emergency Services Director John Shelton, there are a couple issues coinciding with the fact that the tires are extremely difficult to extinguish.

One is that it would take an enormous amount of water and Shelton isn't sure the township even has the required amount of water at their disposal.

In addition, if they were to try to use water to put it out, the contaminants could make their way into drainage systems, then streams, rivers and potentially even the town's water supply.

The EPA has been running some tests and as of now have not found any contaminants in the township.

They are monitoring particulates and there is more equipment on the way to determine what kind of exposure there may have been.

Shelton says there are parts from thousands of tires in the building.

They are not saying there is anything suspicious about the cause but are investigating it as though it could be suspicious to make sure they cover all their bases, Shelton said.

He said it's "hard to set rubber on fire and keep it burning."

Many Pilot Mountain residents who came to watch the fire burn and firefighters work were worried about the building which used to be home to Armtex Inc. Surry Industries.

“It’s sad to see I mean it just looks like the structure is burning,” said Jennifer Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said when it was Armtex the building was home to hundreds of jobs during the booming textile years.

“Some people got their first jobs when they got out of high school they’d go in there and be knitters,” said Gonzalez.

She hopes the damage to the building is limited.

“This is depressing,” said Gonzalez. “Everybody is on Facebook, social media saying I worked there 15 years I worked there 30 years. It’s just sad to see because Pilot Mountain doesn’t have much now and to see something like this happen -- it’s a major thing for us.”