Gwinnett County firefighters allowed the massive masonry warehouse of the landmark but long-defunct Buford Tannery to burn itself down Tuesday night, Capt. Tommy Rutledge of Gwinnett fire said.
He cited dangers from leftover chemicals and other remnants of the tannery that went out of business nearly 34 years ago for the passive approach. Heavy flames were coming through the roof and windows when firefighters pulled up after being alerted by passersby around 7 p.m., he said.
“It was a massive fire when the crews arrived,” Rutledge told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We are concerned mostly that there is no runoff (pollution) that could occur by placing water on this fire.”
The tannery has been the site of flames going back to 1903, when a fire devastated the Bona Allen Company; and then again in 1981, when a fire again gutted the tannery and the business closed and 160 workers lost their jobs.
The business once put Buford on the map as a key provider of hand-tooled saddles, bridles and other leather goods for Hollywood stars such as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and the cast of Bonanza, who provided high-profile customers but could not make up for the decline in the use of horses on the more prosaic Georgia farms and the demise of horse collar sales.
Crews are expected to remain on the scene in the 300 block of East Moreno Street through the night, Rutledge said. No injuries have been reported and there is no immediate threat to the area, Rutledge said.
The fire’s cause was still undetermined Tuesday night, Rutledge said. A plumbing business had occupied part of the building, but it was in the process of shutting down, he said.
“We are trying to piece together what may have happened,” he said. “Investigators are listing it as an undetermined fire under active investigation.”