A fire continues to burn at Wilson County Gin and Cotton Company Monday night.
The fire started around 5:15 a.m. Monday morning outside one of the gin's warehouses and quickly spread indoors.
General Manager Mike Tomlinson says over 12,000 bales of cotton were destroyed by what he believes to be a "hot bale."
"Our motes are raw material from the cotton gin, and as they are ginning, sometimes they have a processing fire - not a big fire. But it may have got sucked in an air pipe and it gets compressed in a bale," Tomlinson said. "It could take two, three, four, five, six, seven days before that fire burns its way out of that bale, but once it reaches air then it spreads quickly."
Tomlinson says "hot bales" are a part of the business and the Wilson County Gin and Cotton Company does take precautions. They let any bale they receive sit outdoors for a few days in case a fire breaks out and normally they are able to take care of it.
"This year has been exceptional. We only had one fire and it was one bale. We caught it before it got to be a problem, moved it out, cut the bale open and put the fire out no problem," Tomlinson said.
That wasn't the case on Monday. Workers at the Gin and Cotton Company ran out of water and were powerless to prevent the fire from spreading, a fire that is very hard to put out.
"You put water on cotton it just gets soppy. It would get wet four to six inches down but it is dry underneath and still burning," Tomlinson said. "You can't put it out, you just have to control it and take care of it."
That's what fire crews did Monday morning. Their first priority was to move the burning cotton away from a building.
"Right at first we got everything contained to where none of these other buildings caught fire. We worked on that until about 11," said Wilson Volunteer Fire Department Chief Craig Wilke. "Since then we've just been sitting here watching it, making sure it doesn't try and move anywhere else."
Many of the firefighters have been at the blaze since Monday morning and will stay there overnight to make sure it doesn't spread, but the community came together to make sure their needs were taken care of.
"We've had groups bringing some hamburgers out today. First Bank and Trust here in Wilson brought us some pizzas out tonight. We've had water, we had doughnuts, the community takes care of us when we have a big one like this," he said.
The next step for the firefighters is to push the smoldering cotton into a pit that they dig in the ground.
"We're going to push all this burning stuff into it and cover it up so it doesn't blow anywhere else," said Wilke. "It will stay warm under the ground for a long time."
Emergency crews will remain on the scene overnight.
Both Tomlinson and Wilke said the fire could take up to seven days to put out.
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