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Fire destroys HCC sawmill, closes campus

fr hccfireThe remnants of Haywood Community College’s old sawmill were still smoldering Tuesday after a fire the night before destroyed most of the building.

Piles of wood and metal littered the property where the sawmill once stood, with only the tall support beams left to trace the outline of the old building. A utility pole nearby still stood erect, but it and its transformers were completely scorched. Windows of the Campus Services Building next door were cracked from the heat that had emanated out from the fire.

Emergency personnel received a call 9:40 p.m. Monday from one of HCC’s neighbors reporting the blaze. Interim HCC President William Aiken arrived not long after and said that within two hours, the Haywood County sheriff’s office, Clyde Fire Department and other responders had gotten the fire under control.

No people were injured. However, people had been in and out of the building during the day Monday.

Because of the rains and work by emergency officials, the fire was contained only to the old sawmill and did not spread to the surrounding forest or building.

HCC officials would not comment on how the fire started or whether investigators suspected arson, and calls to the sheriff’s office were unreturned as of press time.

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“I don’t know that I can answer that,” Aiken said. “(Arson) is something we are concerned about.”

HCC closed its campus Tuesday, and as of press time officials were not 100 percent sure the campus would open on Wednesday.

“The biggest issue is power and water,” Aiken said, noting that the areas of campus surrounding the old sawmill are currently without both.

Aiken said student safety was one of the college’s primary concerns when it decided to cancel classes. It will also give sheriff’s deputies a chance to start looking into the incident. The State Bureau of Investigation will arrive Thursday to join the investigation.

The building and the equipment were valued at $1.5 million, but it is unclear how much of that the insurance company will pay out. Clean-up of the site will depend on the length of the investigation.

The college had held an auction in late September to sell the equipment inside the old sawmill, and officials estimate that auction winners had already claimed more then 80 percent of the machinery. But some was yet to be collected.

The future of the building itself was less clear. The Board of Trustees had discussed repurposing the sawmill or demolishing it and selling it piecemeal.

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