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Lexington community reflects on history after massive plant fire

LEXINGTON, N.C. -- In a small town where everyone knows everybody, they all know someone who worked at the Old Dixie furniture plant.

So when the symbolic backbone of Lexington was going up in flames Tuesday night, it was felt throughout the community, as if they were losing one of their own.

The spectacle was big enough to draw a crowd, including Rick Barnett who has to see it for himself.

"I was up here last night watching the fire and how far it was going up in the air and everything," Barnett said.

Gone is the word dozens of people in Lexington struggled with when describing what happened. And gone is the iconic part of Lexington that gave this city it's worldwide identity.
"It’s so hard to explain it if you’re not here," Barnett said.

But even though the plant is drawing crowd, police, and fire officials are urging the public to keep their distance.

"There are some dangerous spots," said Lexington Fire Chief Phillip Hartley. "You've probably noticed already that walls have collapsed."

Firefighters were still finding hotspots after dozens of departments tried to snuff out the inferno the night before.

"It's still an ongoing fire and I'd like to encourage everybody, citizens, and the media to try to stay away from that area," Chief Hartley said.

Lexington Fire got help from Thomasville and Salisbury when it came to actually fighting the blaze, and had the backup ready to go from two dozen other local departments from Davidson County and beyond.

The first fire initially broke out before 2 a.m. Tuesday. That fire was investigated as suspicious by police. Later in the day, a second fire broke out after 5 p.m.

"Currently the situation is too dangerous to get in at this point," said Lexington Police Chief Mark Sink. "It can take up to a week before we can get into the scene."

Chief Sink says it's too early to label the second larger fire as suspicious. The fires are being investigated separately.

The area was a site for new development. The city-owned the abandoned Plant 1, and had plans to bring in shops and businesses. Now instead of having complete control over the future of that space, the fire has forced the city's hand.

"We were starting to evaluate what buildings did we want to keep what we would not," said Mayor Newell Clark. "We wanted more of a controlled atmosphere to where we were selectively taking down what we needed and last night it just took over and did it for us."

Chief Hartley said it took roughly 7.5 hours and 5 million gallons of water to control the second fire.