Where there’s smoke

Published 7:38 pm Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The complete quote in the title above is “Where there is smoke, there is fire”.  That was certainly the case for the residents of Donalsonville this week as a warehouse sitting in the middle of town and containing nearly 7,000 tons of peanuts caught fire.

The smoke settled on the town like an early morning fog, only worse because it never went away.  The smoke, with its strong burned odor, has been hanging around 24 hours a day, with the only relief coming from the change in the direction of the wind.  Despite the heroic efforts of dozens of firefighters and volunteers, the fire still burns on Tuesday; a full 5 days after it was discovered.

Like most disasters, there are plenty of good things to discuss when talking about this week’s fire, and believe me, everyone in town has been talking about this fire.

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I arrived before the first water was put on the warehouse.  Having been around peanuts, shelling plants and warehouses all my life, I knew the warehouse was gone before the fire truck’s ladder was hoisted and the water started flowing.  Nevertheless, the Donalsonville Fire Department, as the first responders, did an outstanding job in containing the fire and coordinating the efforts of literally a dozen other firefighting units from neighboring communities.

You have to live in a small town to appreciate the way that people pitch in to help each other.  That was certainly the case this week in Donalsonville, as neighboring cities and counties sent equipment and staff to help with the around the clock effort.  Units from a couple of correctional units joined in, as well as forestry and volunteer units from every direction.

As soon as the word spread around town, businesses started taking water, soft drinks, and meals to the exhausted firemen.  Restaurants furnished meals, and ladies baked brownies.  It was heartwarming to see the outpouring of support from people who could not fight the fire; they could only support those that did.

The scene occasionally looked like a horror movie.  Steel beams were twisted in the heat.  Pockets of smoke indicated hot spots that would periodically erupt into flames as they were exposed to air.

Excavators and front end loaders, loaned by area companies and farmers, aided in the efforts to move the massive amount of peanuts off site.  There was really no other choice as the fire would have burned for weeks otherwise.

Tens of millions of gallons of water have been pumped on the site, most of it through the various ladder trucks provided by the city and other departments in the area.   I don’t ever want to hear again that the city doesn’t need a ladder truck.  It helped save the day and much of the town in this particular case.

I also don’t want to hear again any complaints about the money spent on our local fire department.  As Mayor, I am proud of every single one of these firemen.  They have worked tirelessly.  They are well trained and disciplined.   Their new uniform patch has the words honor, pride, integrity and courage.  Every member, paid and volunteer, has earned the right to wear these words on their shoulder.

Other city employees, from the police department to the public works department have also worked around the clock.  Our thanks go out to all of them as well.

While the peanuts and the warehouse are a total loss, we hope that the companies involved will recoup their losses and rebuild their business.  Cloverleaf Gin is the owner of the warehouse.  There is no stronger player in our local agricultural community.   We can only hope that a new warehouse will be in place next year where these charred ruins now stand.

Sessions Company owned the peanuts destroyed in the fire.  They are no stranger to this community or to me.  They are the reason that I moved to this town 39 years ago.  I came to operate a shelling plant that stood where this very fire took place.   They too, are a strong company led by a strong leadership team that I have known for most of my life.  We wish them the best and look forward to their continued participation in serving the area’s peanut farmers that are so important to our community.

There isn’t enough space to thank everyone for their efforts of the past few days.  Just know in the face of great adversity you have made your community proud and for that, we thank you all.