OPELIKA, Ala. — The cause of the fire at the Leshner Mill is still unknown, but an investigation is underway.
Firefighters spent all day Wednesday at the site spraying down hot spots from a distance. The building is not structurally sound, and there is a risk of the building collapsing.
The original call came in Tuesday at 4:59 p.m. central time. Opelika Fire Chief Byron Prather said heavy black smoke was visible from the Opelika Fire Department, which is a little more than a mile away from the mill.
At the peak of the fire, there were close to 150 firefighters battling the blaze, but none of them were hurt. Chief Prather says crews from East Alabama and Huguely were released 10 p.m. Tuesday and Auburn crews were released 2 a.m. Wednesday.
The crews took a defensive stance due to the risk of collapse, but they had to take a conscious stance on using water due to the drought. Chief Prather said members of the Opelika Water Board were out at the fire monitoring the water system. Chief Prather said that the crews had enough water and no residents ran out of water.
“You want to apply it at the scene of the fire and get the most bang for your buck,” Chief Prather said. “We didn’t have a lot of wind last night, and as the fire burned, it pushed the smoke embers back up. We did have a couple embers drop down and come close to starting a few grass fires, but we didn’t want it getting away and starting a grass fire away from here and not know about it have a second incident due to this incident here.”
Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller said that Leshner was the last company to operate out of the mill, and there was an effort to turn the mill into apartments and condominiums 10 to 12 years ago, but it never came to be. The demolition process on the building started a year and half ago. Once the crews have finished at the scene. the demolition process will continue, and Mayor Fuller believes there is great potential for the site.
“We’d love to see development there, either commercial or retail,” Mayor Fuller said. “Certainly, it’s a great location for possibly mixed-use type of multi-family dwellings. It’s very convenient to downtown, the medical facilities in Opelika including East Alabama Medical Center.”
First Avenue between N. 16th Street and N. 17th Street remains completely blocked.
North 16th Place will also be blocked; however, there will be access to Central Baptist Church, Opelika Animal Hospital and Dr. Gary Wright’s Dental Office.
Opelika Fire Department is anticipating that the road between 16th and 17th Street to be completely closed to through traffic for the next couple of weeks.
Due to traffic being diverted, drivers are asked to drive with caution around the area.