By MARINA WATERS
For Jonesborough Fire Chief Phil Fritts, the blaze at Hexpol Compounding last Thursday in Jonesborough is one of the biggest he’s ever worked.
“We have fires all the time,” Fritts said, “but if any department has a fire this size, it’s always taxing on your resources. I’ve done this for 35 years and this was one of the biggest fires I’ve been involved in. This will be on my top five lists, definitely. When you have something like that on fire and it has that much of a start, you can’t stop it. All you can do is try to contain it.”
The fire, Fritts said, started at Hexpol, which is a rubber manufacturer company, around 1:51 a.m. when the Jonesborough Fire Department got the notification about the blaze. From there, Fritts’ team, along with the Johnson City Fire Department and numerous other fire departments throughout the Tri-Cities, fought the fire well over 24 hours.
‘“We went from fire hydrants to a tanker shuttle to draft it out of the creeks because we were depleting the reservoirs,” Fritts said. “And we were 20-plus hours in before we got to that point. We put massive amounts of water on this thing. We probably used 3.5 million gallons out of Jonesborough’s water system.”
One employee from Hexpol was injured. The employee was later airlifted to Wake Forest Burn Center, Fritts said, and has been doing better since the Thursday fire.
“He has improved significantly,” Fritts said on Monday. “I feel better about him. I’m getting some better reports on him.”
The fire also caused concern for the nearby creek beds.
Fritts said the Washington County/Johnson City Emergency Management Agency was on the scene as was the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The water has now been deemed safe for nearby livestock after a warning was issued on Thursday until the water could be better examined.
As local first responders worked to fight the blaze and keep it contained, community members showed up to support the firefighters. Fritts said all sorts of food was brought from multiple people for first responders still on the job hours later.
“We had so much community support,” Fritts said. “There were pizzas and sandwiches. People turned out great for us. We had all kinds of food. And we had a lot of people that needed feeding. So the community turned out big.”
Fritts said his department is still working to recuperate and get their equipment back in order after days of working the fire.
“We’re in the cleanup stage,” Fritts said. “Our staff is tired. We’ve been working about 24 hours a day since this. We’re trying to get our equipment cleaned, our engines back in service. We’re getting there. We’re making progress. We’re still able to answer calls in the city. We’ll be there if something happens.”