Winston-Salem, NC – Sprinklers contain fire in 850,000 sq. ft. furniture plant; No injuries reported

A fire at the United Furniture Industries plant on Hanes Mill Road on Wednesday morning forced the evacuation of the 850,000-square-foot building, with no injuries reported after Winston-Salem firefighting crews extinguished the fire. The fire department stayed on the scene most of the afternoon, checking over the area where the fire occurred in the rear of the building on its southwest side. The fire was called in about 11:44 a.m.

Company spokesman Robert Cottam said the fire is believed to have been caused by a short circuit in some medium-voltage wiring. Insurance and fire investigators will be coming to the plant today to continue the fire investigation, he said. “We lost some furniture and have some smelly smoke damage, but we can fix that,” Cottam said. “We had no injuries and the evacuation went as planned.”

The fire started in a part of the plant where finished furniture items are kept prior to shipping them out. “There were flames visible,” Cottam said. “There were sofas on fire. It was not an excessively large fire, contained to about a 10-by-12- foot area. The Winston-Salem Fire Department did a great job. Our sprinkler system worked as it was supposed to.” Cottam said there would be a “significant product loss” of 7,000 to 10,000 pieces of upholstered furniture.

“That is in one section of the plant, but the others are going to be fine,” he said. “The inventory is not a total loss.” The fire was under control by 12:30 p.m.

Roger Brown, who works in a different part of the plant from where the fire occurred, said that he got right out when the alarm sounded. “We didn’t see smoke when we were in the place,” Brown said. “Once we got outside we could see black smoke billowing.”

Brown said he and other workers were told to take the rest of the day off and that the plant would be closed today.

Cottam said production will also probably not take place on Friday and that production at the plant would probably be up and running again on Monday. Distribution could be back in gear by Friday afternoon or sooner, he said.

United’s facility on Hanes Mill Road, formerly known as Hanesbrands’ Weeks plant, specializes in making promotional upholstery — lower-cost items used to draw customers into a store — and vinyl furniture in the $299 to $699 range.

United has about 350 employees at the 850,000-square-foot plant at 401 W. Hanes Mill Road.

When Hanes Hosiery Mills Co. opened the Weeks plant in 1960, it was the largest manufacturing plant in North Carolina. Hanes Hosiery spent about $30 million on the plant, which would be about $245 million in today’s dollars, according to calculations from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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