There’s something about old industrial buildings that just seems to attract hackerspaces. It could be the open floor plans typical in buildings that used to house big manufacturing operations, or it could be a desire to reinvigorate places where machines once hummed and skilled hands plied their trades. Whatever the attraction, the relationship is not without risk; old buildings with wood floors and frames can be tinderboxes, and tragedy can strike at any moment.
Such a fate befell The Foothills Community Workshop in Granite Falls, North Carolina, this past Friday. Details are still sketchy as the remnants of the 75,000-square foot former Shuford Mills textile factory are still smoldering, and the Fire Marshal’s investigation is not yet complete. Thankfully, no lives were lost, and injuries were limited to heat exhaustion of several of the firefighters from 16 counties who battled the blaze in the hot and humid North Carolina Piedmont.
The building was a complete loss, and almost everything within it is gone. Along with FCW’s
3500 5000-square foot hackerspace were several businesses, a storage unit concern, and some residential apartments. We profiled FCW during their grand opening celebration back in 2012, and from the look of their website they’ve grown by leaps and bounds since then. A large machine shop, nicely equipped wood shop, a ham shack, library, electronics shop, fab lab, a wet lab space with autoclave and fume hood, a huge HO-scale model railroad, and even an area for large-scale art and stagecraft were all added, and are now all ashes. The only thing remaining is a single antenna from the radio shack.
FCW vows to rebuild, of course, and members are now officially in “scrounge mode” for anything and everything needed to rebuild their community. With a week to get over the initial shock, the members have put together a solid list of priorities for which equipment to replace first, and are even still planning to carry through with their regularly scheduled classes and outreach events. They’ve set up a crowdfunding campaign to pass the virtual hat and would no doubt welcome equipment donations, in case you’re able to pitch in and help out some fellow hackers.
Sadly, there aren’t many lessons to be learned from this except that life is fantastically random, and that everyone can do everything right and still end up losing. The fire seems to have started in a completely separate area of the building from the hackerspace, so it seems like nothing FCW did wrong. The Fire Marshal reports that an inspection two days prior to the blaze revealed a problem with the sprinkler system, which the owner appears to have hopped on immediately. Parts were ordered, 24-hour guards were posted, and yet the building burned anyway. It looks like a case of horrible luck.
The only thing that helps with bad luck is a good insurance policy, but you also want to make sure that your hackerspace doesn’t start the fire. To that end, it pays to review the basics of shop fire safety and perhaps how you are storing your flammables. And for those of you with hackerspaces in old factories, and especially when you share the space with other tenants, perhaps a regular walk-through with fire officials is a good idea. If it can happen to Foothills Community Workshop, it can happen to you.
Image credits: Hickory Record