By Alton Mitchell
The Fairfax Mill located in Valley has stood as a significant landmark and iconic memory for residents of the city of Valley and Chambers County community. The mill was one of many that represented the historic significance that the industrial revolution played in the development of Chambers County. However, an accidental blaze late last week has destroyed the historic mill and left the symbolic icon as nothing more than a pile of bricks, wood, and smoldering rubble.
Units from the East Alabama Fire District were dispatched to the 201 Boulevard Street mill in Valley shortly before 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday. When crews arrived, they discovered that a blaze had spread to what remained of the historic mill. The blaze was later determined to have been started by a contractor performing work at the mill site.
The Fairfax Mill closed its doors years ago and had been in a demolition phase over the past several years. On Wednesday afternoon a contractor was at the mill site performing work. During the course of the work in the demolition of the mill the contractor ignited a blaze to burn off some of the remnants from the former textile plant. The controlled blaze that was burning at the plant quickly spread and got out of control.
Fire crews responded to the scene as thick clouds of black smoke filled the Valley sky as a piece of Chambers County history was reduced to rubble and soot. The small fire quickly grew to what remained of the mill which was nearly 200 yards long and consumed the entire plant. Fire crews battled the blaze with conventual tactics, but were unsuccessful in extinguishing the massive blaze.
Members of the East Alabama Fire District backed off from the blaze as night fell and move to more of a defensive manner to attempt to contain the blaze. Winds began to blow over the area making for a more difficult battle for firefighters as they engaged the blaze. As the fire burned the heat from the blaze caused what remained of the first floor to collapse into the basement of the structure. Several sparks could be seen shooting into the nearby air as massive debris piles fell. Gas lines were also seen burning throughout various parts of the former industrial giant.
The mill which at one point stood four stories tall only had a single floor and the basement remaining when the fire broke out. The other parts of the building had been removed by demolition crews over the past year. The contractor who ignited the fire that spread and caused the fire did not have a burn permit to perform the controlled burn. There is no word if charges will be filed against that individual.
On Monday morning, the mill was still smoldering through the rubble. Fire officials confirm there may still be small fires under the rubble at the former mill location. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management issues burn permits for industrial locations and states they did not have one on file for the Fairfax location.
The Fairfax Mill was more than a century old. The plant began construction around 1914 and opened for operation in 1916. The plant produced textiles until the early 2000’s before production was shifted to other facilities. Fire officials confirm there were no injuries as a result of the fire.