Smoke from a burning warehouse at the old State Farmers Market blanketed downtown Columbia Monday afternoon.
The building, which once served as a warehouse for two of the market’s oldest and largest produce distributors, was scheduled to be torn down after football season to make way for USC’s plan to create more parking for Williams-Brice Stadium, said interim Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins.
As of late Monday afternoon, a cause had not been determined, Jenkins said. Firefighters did not believe anyone was inside the building when the fire started, but they had been unable to get inside to check, he said.
Firefighters responded to a call about a fire at 2:55 p.m., Jenkins said. No electricity was on in the vacant warehouse, which once housed Senn Brothers and V.B. Hook produce distributors.
Because the building was going to be razed, Jenkins said firefighters were in defensive mode, where they wanted to stop the flames from spreading but were not necessarily concerned about saving the structure.
“We’re not going to take a chance of anyone getting hurt,” he said.
Gary Prince, an owner of Senn Brothers, drove to the farmers market after hearing his old warehouse was in flames. Most of his equipment had been moved in August to the new market near Dixiana, south of Columbia.
The warehouse, built in the 1950s, was constructed of wood and was filled with polystyrene, which had insulated the coolers used to store vegetables and fruit, Prince said.
The polystyrene caused thick, black smoke to billow from the building’s roof. Afternoon winds pushed the smoke over the stadium and fairgrounds, and ashes wafted through the air at the 50-acre sight.
“It’s a quicker end than I thought it would be,” Prince said of the old building. “I had planned to come over and take pictures before the demolition began.”
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.
Video: Scenes from the fire