Rex Lumber Company, Graceville's largest employer, caught fire Thursday night and sustained heavy damage. No one was injured, but officials said the outcome could have been a lot worse had the city not made recent water and road improvements.
After the fire started around 5:30 P.M., fourteen fire departments responded from across the panhandle and parts of Southeast Alabama. It took fire fighters nine hours and 1.1 million gallons of water to extinguish the flames that destroyed one of the company's buildings.
"Something that magnitude, in a community the size of Graceville... the size of that fire last night we usually don't see something like that but every two to three years" said Ben Bell, Assistant Fire Chief for the Graceville Volunteer Fire Department.
And the conditions for a disaster couldn't have been worse. The building was full of wood and fuel and fanned by slightly windy conditions. Fire crews used enough water to supply Graceville's needs for two days. Some even feared they would run out of water.
Charlie Martin is the director at the Waste Water Plant in Graceville. He told us, "we were concerned, of course were concerned, but, we've done some upgrades to our system and that's what we're preparing for- the 'what if's'". City officials told us new roads and water tanks helped prevent the lumber yard from completely burning to the ground.
"You know I hate to think about it, but ten years ago there was a possibility this fire would have spread. If we hadn't been able to contain the fire [we would have] lost all four kilns, the mill would be shut down for an unknown period of time" said Adams.
It appeared as though business was back to usual on Friday, but company officials said it would take a month to repair the damage and get back to full-speed.
Fire investigators weren't able to get into the building until Friday morning, and officials said the cause was still being investigated, but likely accidental.
The owners released a statement Friday saying they were thankful no one was hurt and grateful for the firefighters and the community' support.