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Massive fire torches vintage vehicles

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Top, flames rise high above the Newton Farm Road home; below, a firefighter douses the ruins of the razed garage. / July 19, 2021
A massive garage fire that started just before midnight Saturday and raged for some five hours in the Cluster Springs area destroyed around a dozen vintage vehicles and sent firefighters scrambling for water to douse the blaze.

Cluster Springs volunteers received the call at 11:30 p.m. of a fire near 1134 Newton Farm Road. When firefighters arrived, they found the garage of a home engulfed in flames. Clouds of smoke were visible high in the sky behind the home of Terry and Raymond Butler. It took over five hours and dozens of firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

“There was a whole lot of fuel loaded in the garage for the fire to feed on,” said Chris Hudson, chief of the Cluster Springs Volunteer Fire Department, which led the assault on the conflagration.

The sounds of exploding vehicles punctured the night air as the fire spread to fuel tanks. There were loud booms each time a tank exploded, setting off a chain reaction of other exploding tanks and vehicles. The classic cars, antique signs and other belongings inside the garage were incinerated as flames licked the tops of tall pine trees in the yard.

Hudson said all signs point to Saturday night’s dry lightning as the fire’s cause. Estimated damage to the garage, vehicles and other property totaled $800,000, he said.

The Butler home was spared, thanks to the diligent work of firefighters.

Shortly after reaching the scene at around 12:12 a.m., Hudson issued an “all-call” once the fire’s rapid spread became clear. With that order, any and all available tanker trucks and firefighters were dispatched to the scene. They immediately encountered a dilemma — firefighters needed water, and lots of it. The location of the Butler home was not accessible to nearby ponds.

Triple Springs VFD, based out of Roxboro, N.C., brought a tanker truck that could haul 1,800 gallons of water. Other trucks hauled about 1,000 gallons. The Triple Springs VFD drove its truck to Riverdale to fill up at the fire hydrant at the former Slagle Fire Equipment building on Route 58, several miles from Newton Farm Road.

A pond located closer to the fire was too far back from the road to serve as a water source.

“The turnaround was too tight at the pond for fire trucks,” said Hudson.

Tanker trucks sped into Riverdale to draw water from two fire hydrants — one located at Comfort Systems, the other at the old Slagle Fire Equipment building. At least nine tanker trucks ferried some 50,000 gallons of water to the scene, around a 1,000 gallons at a time.

Once there, trucks dumped water into a drop tank, resembling a swimming pool, then the water was sucked and pushed to the fire engine near the back of the house beside the red-hot glowing garage. One firefighter who was positioned on top of the truck doused the flames high above onto the garage roof, while others attacked from ground level.

“After the tin roof [of the garage] fell, we had to clear that and the garage doors out of the way to access the cars inside, along with stacked firewood that needed to be removed,” said Hudson.

A propane tank that exploded from the pressure injured one firefighter — the severity of the injuries is unknown — but no one else was harmed from the fire. Dominion Energy workers were called to disconnect the electricity to the garage and gas company sent a crew to disconnect the propane tank. The power breakers that ran electrical current from the house to the garage had already been flipped off.

Another sign of Saturday night’s lightning dangers surfaced hours earlier in the Cluster Springs area. The Cluster Springs VFD responded to a call around 5:45 p.m. at 2137 Old Cluster Springs Road in South Boston, where a trailer located behind the home was struck by lightning and caught on fire. No other information on that smaller fire was available at press time.

Firefighters remained on the scene at Newton Farm Road until 5 a.m. working to tamp out the fire at the Butler home. Tanker trucks and crews that assisted Cluster Springs VFD included: Triple Springs, Clarksville, Virgilina, Clover, Liberty, Scottsburg, Midway, Turbeville, South Boston and North Halifax.

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