Summerville — A quick-moving fire destroyed a sewing plant and shut down U.S. Highway 78 for several hours Thursday night.
The last employee at the Gransfors Bruks Inc. plant was preparing to leave about 6:50 p.m. when the fire alarm went off, said company President Yvonne Caruso. The employee saw smoke and called 911, she said.
Firefighters arrived at the plant, which is across from Alston Middle School, and found about a fourth of the 16,000-square-foot building in flames, said Battalion Chief Rodney Profit of the Summerville Fire Department. The fire rapidly consumed much of the concrete-block structure.
"It advanced very quickly on us," Profit said.
Nearly 50 firefighters from Summerville, Charleston, North Charleston and Old Fort departments fought the flames. No one was injured, and the fire was under control by about 8:30 p.m.
Early in the blaze, embers spattered onto the roofs of several nearby buildings in the Garden Manor apartments, and firefighters momentarily turned their hoses there, said resident Roxanne Thompson. She arrived home from shopping about 7 p.m. to find the chaotic scene.
"I turned onto the street and I saw fire. There was fire everywhere," she said. "Everybody was screaming."
Several employees of the business heard about the fire and came back Thursday night to watch the blaze.
"I'm scared," employee Janice Campbell said. "You're job, that's the other half of your life."
Lowcountry American Red Cross volunteers arrived late Thursday to help firefighters.
"Our volunteers are going to be out there all night supplying coffee and keeping them hydrated, as well as snacks and meals," said Meredith Jarvis, local Red Cross public support associate.
The Swedish plant makes safety apparel for the forest industry. Loggers use the protective clothing to prevent chain-saw injuries, Caruso said.
"We're pretty sure the building is a total loss," she said. "Twenty-five employees are out of work, but we'll figure something out."
Summerville Fire Chief Marc Melfi said the building did not have a sprinkler system. The cause of the fire was unknown.
"We're pretty sure it started in the production cutting room," Caruso said.