Old Dixie Furniture Plant fire in Lexington: The day after

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Twisted metal, shattered brick walls, and rising smoke are all that’s left of the old Dixie Furniture plant in Lexington’s Depot District after a massive fire ripped through the factory (see SkyView8 video here).

“It looked like somebody dropped a bomb in the city of Lexington,” said Ben Desroches with Norfolk Southern Railway.

Crews are watching the situation closely Wednesday afternoon, waiting to dive into the rubble to begin their investigation into what happened.

The factory runs from 3rd to 7th Avenue along South Railroad Street, and the fire engulfed everything from 3rd to 5th Avenue. No one was hurt while fighting the fire.

“It’s devastating. This plant’s been out here for a long time,” said James Aiken, who worked at the plant for nearly a decade.

Parts of the old factory have lined the train tracks in Lexington for more than 100 years. The fire brought down at least one building in just hours.

Police say the building was abandoned and didn’t have any electricity wired to it at the time of the fire.

It’s still a mystery what caused the fire to start around 2 a.m. Tuesday. Crews were able to put it out the first time.

“From that, our police and fire walked through every inch of the building, looking for possible reasons for that,” Mayor Newell Clark said. “No one was in the building at the time.”

But the flames reignited around 5 p.m. Onlookers stood and watched this piece of local history burn. Many of them say they’ve never seen anything like it.

“No, not here in Lexington,” Desroches said. “This was pretty big and it’s really a sad night for Lexington. I’ve got friends and friends of friends who retired from this place even though it closed long ago.”

The old Dixie Furniture plant shut down more than a decade ago, but it’s still a landmark in the Lexington community.

“It’s devastating for a lot of folks who have worked here,” Clark said. “When I heard folks last night, the words that I heard were, ‘I worked there for 20 years. I worked there for 30 years. I worked there for 40 years.’ And it is something to realize that it’s not just people who were employed here, it’s families. Generation upon generation, and it means a tremendous amount to them.”

It could be several weeks before we know what caused the fire and months before the damage gets cleaned up.

The entire factory spreads over a million square feet, and Clark estimates the fire burned through several hundred-thousand square feet.

Firefighters prevented the flames from spreading to nearby businesses, such as Bull City Ciderworks on Salisbury Strteet, and from other parts of the factory slated to become mixed-use areas down the road.

Clark says it’s too early to tell how the fire will affect the plans for future development in the Depot District.

“It has obviously reversed our plans, so we’re going to have to step back and re-evaluate,” Clark said.

“Looking at this right now, I hope the city got plans to do something with this spot, to build something that can help the people in Lexington,” said Curtis McDuffy, who worked at the plant for 21 years.

The fire also closed the Norfolk Southern Railway that runs along the plant. Desrosches says thanks to the quick action of first responders, the railroad opened back up early this morning.

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