YORK -- State investigators are on their way to York this morning to investigate the cause of the fire that destroyed a York landmark Thursday night, York fire chief Dominic Manera said.
Firefighters from York, Clover and Newport responded to the fire shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday. By that time, the majority of the building already was engulfed in flames, Manera said.
Crews had the blaze contained in about an hour, but Manera said firefighters were on the scene all night as it burnt itself out. He said most of the flames had been doused this morning, but some hot spots remained until firefighters could move debris today.
Firefighters were able to save only a small portion of the right wing of the building, which Manera said was protected by a fire wall.
No one was injured in the blaze. A cause had not been determined late Thursday.
"This is a fiery tragedy for York," Mayor Eddie Lee said as he watched the blaze. "This is a piece of our history that went up in flames tonight."
The more than 100-year-old mill was being renovated into apartments by Rehab Builders, a subsidiary of the Landmark Group, which also restored the Rose Hotel on Congress Street.
Construction workers left the building about 6:30 p.m. and had done a walk-through before leaving, Manera said the manager told him.
"They didn't see any signs of fire when they left the building," Manera said.
York firefighters will be working with the State Law Enforcement Division today to investigate the cause of the fire, Manera said.
"We'll check as much of the building as we can and try to find out what caused it," he said.
The renovations to the building could have caused it to burn faster, Manera said.
"It was clear open space all across," Manera said. "There was nothing in there to stop the fire from spreading."
Because the building already was too far gone when firefighters arrived, they decided to let the fire burn itself out, Manera said. It was still burning around 10:30 p.m.
"We're still in a drought situation, so we're trying not to waste any water," Manera said. "It's contained right now, so we're pretty much going to let it burn."
He said the fire was probably the worst in York in about a decade.
Andrew Clay, who lives near the mill, said he was at the Benfield Boxing Academy on South Congress Street when he heard a boom. He followed the smoke to the scene. By the time he arrived, flames were shooting into the sky, he said.
"We had flames higher than that tower right there," he said, pointing to the water tower on the property.
Earlene McClain, who lives on Hunter Street, said she just happened to look outside and saw smoke. She called 911 and was told firefighters were already on their way.
"I went door to door telling everybody because I didn't know if they were going to evacuate because the smoke was so thick," McClain said.
The mill opened in the early 1900s and operated through the late 1960s. It's had several owners since closing.
Last summer, the mill was used to shoot a portion of the film "Gospel Hill," starring Danny Glover, Julia Stiles and Angela Bassett. The building was used for a mill scene, and some old equipment was briefly made operational again.
The Landmark Group recently started a $5.7 million restoration of the mill to turn it into 40 apartments for senior adults. The project was scheduled to be completed by 2009.