WEIRTON, W.Va.—A build-up of pressure in a blast furnace at Weirton Steel Corp. is the suspected cause of a Dec. 16 fire that destroyed a warehouse at Ferguson Tire Service Inc. in Weirton. The building contained a retreading plant on the ground floor and the dealership's inventory of 2,000 tires on the upper floor, said owner Gene Ferguson. The brick and wood warehouse, built in the 1860s, was one of the oldest buildings in the county, he said, estimating the loss at about $500,000.
Ferguson Tire is located next to the steel plant, and none of the dealership's four other buildings were damaged.
The Weirton Fire Department responded to an alarm at about 7 a.m., said Fire Chief Kessler Cole. Mr. Cole said he believes hot ash and debris spewed from a smokestack at the steel plant igniting a pile of scrap rubber immediately outside the warehouse.
It took 50 firefighters about two hours to bring the blaze under control. They poured thousands of gallons of water on the fire, filling the basement with water, Mr. Cole said. The brick walls were knocked down into the basement, extinguishing the burning tires.
Mr. Ferguson said said the retread facility will be rebuilt because "that's a big part of what we do."
Witnesses told Mr. Cole they heard a muffled explosion from inside the plant and noticed burning ash and debris coming from the smokestack shortly before the blaze started. "I'm pretty convinced that's what it was (that started the fire)," he said.
The chief said these "burps" are not uncommon, but he had never heard of one starting a blaze of this size.
A spokesman for Weirton Steel said the company is investigating the incident and cooperating with the fire department, but he declined further comment.