After spending more than 24 hours fighting a massive fire here at the old Atlantic Cotton Mill, the Macon-Bibb Fire Department remains on the scene because the structure itself is very unstable and because of that Chief Riggins says it could be a long night for his team.
"Since yesterday about 4:15 p.m. we've been here on the scene. And we'll probably be here throughout the night tonight because the structure is still unsafe, the walls unsound. The integrity has been compromised greatly. So we certainly don't want any citizenry to hurt or entangled by what could be falling debris," said Riggins.
Riggins says with the magnitude of the blaze, damage in the area could have been much worse. Apartment complexes rested just feet away from the sweltering heat, but swift action to contain the fire allowed those properties to be spared; a difficult task, considering the battle against time and mobility.
"The access, one way in, one way out of this complex and that certainly did not aid in the strategicness for fire fighting," said Riggins.
Fire investigators continue to work the scene to determine when and where the blaze began. Chief was able to tell me he found out that two metal workers were cutting metal just hours before the blaze started.
"We do know that there was actually metal being cut in the building yesterday by some workers that were actually taking out the metal piping out of the structure. At the time of the fire we're not really sure as to where they were," said Riggins.
As the structure tumbled so did a great economic opportunity for
"The project was going to be a 13 million dollar revitalization project that would have added 106 units of market rate loft housing and would've contributed an additional quarter of a million dollars a year to our taxing agencies so it was a significant revenue stream. It would have provided a lot of jobs and in the current economy we can't afford to miss out on opportunities like this," said Executive Director of Historic Macon, Josh Rogers.
"There's a possibility that we'll be able to use the grant for another similar project, but it's also possible that we'll have to send the money back. Those are state and federal regulations that we'll be working through over the next couple of weeks," said
At this time it’s still unclear what will happen to the property, but a significant plan of demolition and clean up is on the way. Fire officials say we're very fortunate no one was injured in such a devastating fire.
Because of the age of the building, there was some public concern about Asbestos exposure coming from the smoke. The Atlantic Cotton Mill was built in the 1920's.
We spoke with Mercer Physical Plant workers who said the building had been abated of Asbestos before the fire. Fire Chief Riggins confirmed this, and said the public has no reason for concern about Asbestos exposure from the fire.