Massive blaze burns through QVC warehouse in North Carolina, US, one dead
Crews from nearly 45 agencies across six counties battled a five-alarm fire at a QVC distribution centre near Rocky Mount in North Carolina, US, for more than 12 hours Saturday, 18 December 2021. A crew with the Heartsease Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to the fire at 02h06am and was the first agency to arrive at the scene about 12 minutes later, said Chief James Bowen. They found heavy smoke and flames emerging from the roof and immediately called for help. The Rocky Mount Fire Department arrived at the scene at around 02h45am, Bowen said. Saturday afternoon, fire fighters were still working to extinguish the fire, Rocky Mount Fire Chief Corey Mercer said. Crews faced a shortage of water at one point in the fire fighting effort and two 6 000-gallon water tenders came in from New Bern and Elizabeth City, said Chad Brandon, district forester for the North Carolina Forest Service in Rocky Mount.
A 21-year-old man was found dead.
A helicopter flown in from the agency’s Sanford office provided aerial surveillance of the fire and was able to drop roughly 11 000 gallons of water over portions of the fire that engines on the ground couldn’t reach, Brandon said.
North Carolina Forest Service personnel also helped suppress a separate two-acre fire around 04h30am that had been sparked by embers from the main fire, he added.
Approximately 75 percent of the building had been damaged as of Saturday afternoon, said Chief Mercer.
Fire crews have been able to gain access to a limited part of the building to conduct search-and-rescue efforts, Mercer said but were still working to find and put out hot-spots from the blaze.
More than 300 employees were working at the massive, 1,2 million square-foot facility when the fire was reported shortly after 02h00am, Edgecombe County manager, Eric Evans, said. “This is devastating for our county, this is a blow to our local economy but most importantly, we’re concerned about the employees who work at that facility,” Evans said. “We want you to know there are lots of resources that we’re working very hard to coordinate to make sure that we can provide the assistance that we need to them.”
QVC representatives reported that all employees safely evacuated the warehouse and were accounted for but one, whose family hadn’t yet heard from them, Evans said. The Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office is looking for that individual, Evans added.
A ‘sad day for Rocky Mount’
The QVC facility, next to US 64 about eight miles east of downtown Rocky Mount, has been employing hundreds of workers in the region since it was opened around 21 years ago, Evans said.
QVC generally employs around 1 200 workers at the distribution centre but the company usually hires hundreds more during the holiday season. Up to 2 000 workers may have been working at the site at this time of the year, Evans said.
The Rocky Mount Area Chamber of Commerce previously said in Facebook post that up to 2 500 local families could be impacted by the facility being closed.
The facility had the capacity to pack and ship more than 300 000 packages per day, according to builder Barnhill Contracting Company.
Evans said that in his nearly 20 years working for Edgecombe County, Saturday’s fire was his first time “being involved in a disaster of this magnitude.” “It’s a sad day for Rocky Mount, and I just want to applaud all the first responders,” said Mike Causey, the state insurance commissioner and fire marshal.
Causey said he couldn’t recall the last time there was a fire of this size in North Carolina, adding that the closest parallel he could think of was the 2017 blaze that consumed an empty, unfinished five-storey apartment building in downtown Raleigh, resulting in more than $50 million of damage.
He said the investigation into Saturday’s fire would likely continue for days and in addition to local authorities would involve the State Bureau of Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Evans, the county manager, said the QVC facility was in compliance with building codes and that the building’s sprinkler system was activated and continued working until the fire grew to a point that it “overtook it.”
Bowen, chief of the Heartsease Fire Department, said crews would swap out at 19h00 and will continue working 12-hour shifts until the fire is extinguished.
Support for employees out of a job
Employees affected by the fire should expect to hear directly from QVC “very soon,” Evans said. Anyone who needs to file for unemployment benefits can do so immediately at the North Carolina Commerce Department’s website by visiting the page for the Division of Employment Security.
In the coming days, officials will also send a rapid response team to provide those who have lost jobs with support, including by developing a “transitional plan of action” targeted toward the affected business and helping workers access to certain funds and services.
Evans said people who can access the state unemployment benefits system online should file their applications right away.
No QVC representatives were present for the Saturday afternoon news conference but a company spokesperson previously said that QVC was “focused on the safety and well-being of our team members.”
“In addition, we are also working to understand the full impact to products and orders and will provide further details to our customers as soon as they are available,” the spokesperson said.
Source: The Charlotte Observer