Day long inferno rips through cloth plant
Firefighters from four counties battled a multi-alarm blaze at the former United Wiping Cloth factory in Shenandoah for several hours beginning at 4 a.m. Friday. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
A firefighter loses his helmet and falls to the ground on icy streets Friday during the fire at the former United Wiping Cloth factory in Shenandoah. Arctic air of 15 degrees and a wind chill of zero caused treacherous conditions. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Firefighters from four counties battled through the night early Friday until late in the afternoon to extinguish a smoky, stubborn blaze at a large industrial site in Shenandoah.
Crews were summoned to the former United Wiping Cloth factory, East Lloyd Street, around 4 a.m., where the building was fully engulfed within an hour.
Fire tore through the inside of the brick building with such intensity, said firefighters, that it threatened adjacent residential neighborhoods, leading to a distress alert being sounded, or mayday call.
In addition to Shenandoah-area fire units, the Tamaqua fire department responded, as did Hometown fire police and many other response teams from Schuylkill County. Fire departments responded from as far away as Mount Carmel, Hazle Township and Schuylkill Haven.
Surrounding neighborhoods were quickly evacuated and fire police closed Route 54 into the community.
Firefighters battled the blaze — and people fled nearby homes — in arctic air of 15 degrees and wind chill of zero or below.
Spray from fire hoses covered streets, sidewalks and even power lines with ice, causing treacherous conditions.
The multi-alarm fire strained resources of the Shenandoah municipal water system, requiring tankers to be dispatched from a wide area.
At one point, air horns sounded as a signal for firefighters to evacuate the building, in danger of collapse.
The fire also led to a power outage impacting the east end section of the community.
It appeared Friday that the building had been completely gutted by the inferno.
The United Wiping Cloth plant was once a well-known employer in the town, but closed many years ago.
Recent events are rapidly changing the appearance of a neighborhood once home to major Shenandoah industries.
The adjacent, abandoned Swift and Company warehouse, a landmark owned by United Wiping Cloth until 1997, was razed last year.
Another landmark, the 1918 J.W. Cooper School, a former high school undergoing restoration, is situated just across a narrow alley from the site of the fire.
The United Wiping Cloth building was no longer in use as an industrial site but neighbors said Friday they occasionally saw activity.
A man reportedly living in an apartment made it out safely.
The building is owned by Klimov Semyon of Brooklyn, New York, according to courthouse records.
The cause is under investigation.