WEST POINT - A local welding company suffered the loss of its machine shop during an early morning fire Tuesday, but other portions of the business were up and running later that day.
The machine shop at PWS Welding, 14533 East Liverpool Road, sustained major damage in the blaze, which was reported at just about 2 a.m. by company employees.
Les Caudill, son of owner Betty Caudill, said at the scene that he and other employees had been working in another building on the property until the early morning hours and were leaving the driveway when one of the employees spotted smoke coming from the machine shop.
Once firefighters extinguished most of the fire in this pole barn at PWS Welding, they were able to open the large door, causing smoke to billow out. (Photo by Jo Ann Bobby Gilbert)
According to Caudill, the last time anyone had been inside the machine shop was about 4 p.m. on Monday.
Firefighters from West Point and Glenmoor arrived on the scene to find heavy smoke and heat coming from the metal pole building but not much visible fire, according to West Point Chief Wayne Chamberlain.
"It was more of a smoldering fire and not a lot of visible fire," according to Chamberlain, who said firefighters' initial concern was knowing the building contained highly flammable oxygen, acetylene and propane tanks used for cutting and welding operations.
Having responded to the location about two years ago for an office fire, Chamberlain said, "We knew what they had (inside), and when we arrived, employees reminded us."
Employees had pinpointed the location of the blaze after trying to enter the burning building but being forced back by heat and smoke, Chamberlain said.
"The employee tried to open the (large) door, but was unable to get in. Luckily, he shut the door and the fire wasn't able to get much air. Had he left the door open, it would have been a different story," Chamberlain said.
The fire was actually concentrated in an upstairs corner office and a break room just underneath it on the bottom floor, with a stairway in between. Each room was only about 8-foot by 10-foot, with the fire contained in an area about 20-foot by 20-foot, Chamberlain said.
Firefighters battled the blaze with hoses taken through two smaller entrance doors, and once the fire was extinguished, the large door at the front was opened, letting out huge clouds of smoke.
Chamberlain said, "It was tough working around the inside due to all the machines, and visibility was poor."
He said it was fortunate Caudill and other employees spotted the fire when they did rather than it having the chance to spread to other buildings on the property.
The machinery inside the shop appeared to be heavily damaged, but Chamberlain could not offer an opinion on their condition, saying that was not his area of expertise and that the insurance company would make that determination.
An employee said Tuesday afternoon that the machines were, for the most part, destroyed and that no machining work could take place.
However, she said, employees were able to continue working in the welding and fabrication shops.
The company is currently working on a large contract involving the gas and oil industry, with a looming deadline, which is why employees were working into the morning hours, according to Caudill's wife, Missy, who was also at the scene of the fire.
The office employee said the fire should not hamper work on that contract.
Caudill was not at the company later in the afternoon to seek comment.
Chamberlain said the cause of the blaze is not yet known but said that, in a machine shop, it would be possible for a spark or a piece of hot metal to smolder undetected for several hours before igniting.
Firefighters were on the scene until 5 a.m., with Lisbon Fire Department on standby.