Buildings destroyed in massive Petersburg fire

Published: Jan. 16, 2018 at 10:27 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 17, 2018 at 3:01 PM EST
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PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - A massive fire broke out in Petersburg on Tuesday morning, destroying a vacant historic factory and townhomes, as well as shutting down streets.

The fire, which started around 5 a.m. was on High Street, near Lafayette and Hinton streets.

"[I've] never seen anything like it," explained neighbor Bobby Milford. "The sky was completely orange, and the flames were leaping up higher than the tree lines."

Fire officials said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that the fire started at a vacant building and then spread to the High Street Lofts through a catwalk that connected the two buildings.

"We saw the heat and the building right next to us on fire," said resident Nathan Estrada. "Right outside our window."

The townhomes at 422 High Street and the old Seward Luggage factory at 424 High Street were totally destroyed.

"422 is what's really gone. Those are the people who won't have anywhere to go," said Milford.

His home security camera captured the flames from about a block away. Milford says he saw the flames for the first time when a friend who lives at the nearby High Street Lofts evacuated and frantically knocked on his front door.

Two people were rescued during the blaze, fire officials said, but no major injuries were reported.

Crews from Chesterfield, Hopewell, Henrico, Prince George, Colonial Heights and Fort Lee, worked alongside Petersburg to contain the fire and the heavy smoke that filled the air most of the day.

Working into the night, crews demolished parts of the building left standing. Deputy Fire Chief Brian Strudivant says an unstable chimney was causing concern.

Fire officials say there is no cause yet. Investigators are still working to determine what may have sparked the massive blaze.

According to Brian Hahl, property manager for Monroe Properties, "about five townhomes were completely destroyed, and the severity of damage to the remaining four is still in question."


The High Street fire has been completely contained with the help of mutual aid from the surrounding jurisdictions of Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Ft. Lee, Prince George, Dinwiddie, and Richmond.

As this time, the cause of the fire is unknown and there are no reported injuries or casualties. Dominion Energy has commenced work to restore power to Cross Street, however, due to downed power lines and limited street access, updates are pending for power restoration in other areas.

There will be no access to the High Street site for a minimum of 48 hours. Tenants should plan for an extended 72 hours.

Red Cross Virginia is still working will residents to provide relocation assistance and other services. Any displaced residents can reach the Red Cross at 804-481-5521.

Anyone needing further assistance can also call the Non-Emergency line at 804-732-4222.

On Wednesday, Petersburg released the following new details:

As this time, the cause of the fire is unknown and investigations are underway. There are no reported injuries or casualties. Dominion Energy is continuously working to restore power to High Street. Power is expected to be restored soon, however, there is no definitive time for complete restoration.

Access remains limited to the High Street site; however, residents of 420 High Street only can return to retrieve small items. Petersburg Police will be on site at 420 High Street from 11am – 4pm on January 17, 18 and 19 to assist residents. Proper identification is required.


The Red Cross is providing a warming shelter at the Petersburg Area Transit Station to impacted residents.

"Our first priority is to support the immediate needs of residents displaced as a result of this fire," said Red Cross Communications Director, Jonathan McNamara. "Over the coming hours we will work with Petersburg Fire and City officials to determine the full scope of how our volunteers can best assist all those in need of support."

The Red Cross remained on scene offering support, while it is still unknown how many people have been left without a home.

"Providing, hot meals comfort items as well as health services to any of the displaced residents," explained McNamara.

Resident Rhonda Harris is now being called "Wonder Woman" for putting her tenants safety above her own.

"I just started running and screaming through the hallways. I pulled the fire alarm and just started beating on everybody's door to get everybody out," Harris said.

Those who know Harris well say her latest act of heroism is no shocker.

"Rhonda looks out for everyone in the community," said Daniel Salley.


Petersburg officials also say water service is being impacted in the area.

"Appomattox River Water Authority was notified and increased the water flow to the city," Petersburg officials said in a news release.

The blaze has also caused several streets to be closed on Tuesday:

  • N. Market St. between W. Tabb and Low St.
  • W. Bank St. between N. Sycamore and N. Market St.
  • Lafayette St. between W. Washington St. And W. High St.
  • Hinton St. between Davis St. And Lafayette St.
  • High St. between Hurt St. And N. Market St.



There is currently no information on what caused the fire.

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