Massive warehouse fire continues to burn at Sumter's old VB Furniture


White and gray flecks floated through the air in parts of downtown Sumter on Wednesday morning as a haze hung in the sky and firefighters continued to douse a 500,000-square-foot fire they fought through the night.

A ladder truck from the Columbia Fire Department remained raised over a warehouse off South Lafayette Drive and Fulton Street more than 12 hours after calls first came in about the old VB Williams Furniture Co. burning. The building now is used by Hodge Trucking Co. Inc. and stored recyclables such as soda bottles, other plastics and tires, according to fire personnel on scene.

The Sumter Fire Department had about 130 career and volunteer firefighters working both the scene and the county's regular stations, according to Division Chief Joey Duggan.

Duggan said houses across Lafayette were never in danger because crews had it contained, but embers did float across Fulton Street to the old Sumter Cabinet Co., a 521,000-square-foot facility that closed in 2006, according to Item archives. He said a firefighter saw flames coming from the building and called units to extinguish what would have been a second fire scene.

Crews and equipment from Sumter, Shaw Air Force Base, Clarendon County, Camden and Columbia all responded to the scene, Duggan said, which began about 10 p.m. Tuesday.

He said 55 firefighters from across the state were set to arrive in Sumter on Wednesday night to help with the fire, which Duggan expected will last a couple more days.

"We're working with (S.C.) State Fire doing the State Firefighter Mobilization just because of manpower purposes and the extent it's going to be as far as the time we're going to be here," Duggan said.

The mobilization plan was created in 2001 to help distribute firefighters from other counties across the state to assist on large fires.

"It's nothing but a big mutual aid agreement for the whole state, and it's actually coordinated through State Fire," he said.

Wednesday was National First Responders Day. In January 2018, about 90 Sumter firefighters responded to a massive fire at Hodge Distribution & Logistics' warehouse on Hauser Street, which reignited hours later because of flammable materials in the debris.

In that eight-hour period, the fire department used about 1 million gallons of water to control the fire at the approximately 200,000-square-foot warehouse.

"It's somewhat similar," Duggan said. "This is just on a larger scale for sure."

The owner of both facilities said he could not talk Wednesday as he tried sorting through the situation and learning himself what had happened.