Could be days before fire at century-old cotton mill can be probed

It could be mid-week before investigators are able to begin to determine the cause of what’s been labeled a suspicious fire in Douglas County.

The fire that destroyed the century-old, abandoned General West Cotton Mill on East Broad Street (Bankhead Highway) in Douglasville still had visible flames around 8 p.m. Saturday, some 20 hours after it started for unknown reasons.

“The fire investigator walked the perimeter of the scene yesterday, but he cannot even get in there and investigate it still,” Wes Tallon, a spokesman for the Douglas County Board of Commissioners said early Sunday afternoon. “Around the back, where people who used to work there told us the boiler room was, they estimate it goes down 30 feet. And that was heavily smoking still, late last night.”

At least Mother Nature is doing her part to help quench the flames. Storms that have dropped more than an inch of rain on metro Atlanta since early Sunday morning have “greatly helped us,” Tallon said.

“We were concerned that the fire would go very deep and there’d be a longer burnout time there,” Tallon added. “We’re hopeful for more rain to come through.”

The rain came too late to put a damper on another situation Saturday: Some people crossed the fire line and tried to pick up bricks or other souvenirs from the old mill.

“A lot of people apparently had family that worked there,” said Tallon, adding that Douglasville police were patrolling the site Sunday. “That scared us, because it was still an active fire scene. We had to get that message out.”

The dilapidated building has so many layers of flooring and sub-flooring that investigators won’t go in until it’s certain nothing’s smoldering far down, Tallon said. It could be tomorrow, Tuesday or even Wednesday before it’s safe enough for experts to fully examine the site of the “suspicious” blaze.

“That [term] means it’s not caused by an act of God, no thunder or lightning,” Tallon explained. “It could be an accident -- something as simple as a tossed cigarette, a homeless person building a fire, or it could be arson. So the term we’re using is ‘suspicious.’”