Massive fire destroys historic Petersburg factory building

PETERSBURG, Va. --The fire at the High Street Lofts and old Seward Luggage Company continues to smolder more than six hours after the initial 911 call at 5 a.m. Tuesday. Periodically, the fire sparked up again and large plumes of smoke filled the area.

By 6 a.m., numerous fire crews from in and around Petersburg were working to tame the fire and prevent it from spreading to the High Street Lofts.

More than 80 people who live in the neighboring lofts were evacuated for the own safety. The burned building was being converted from the factory to an additional loft/apartment building as part of a larger complex.

A bridge that connected the Seward Luggage Factory to the High Street Lofts collapsed in the fire.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

The City Manager told CBS 6 that the historic district normally has lower water pressure and that crews had to open additional valves throughout the city to build up pressure as they battled the blaze.

There have been no reports of injuries at this time.

At least three of the nearby town homes are destroyed, according to Tim Harris, who is married to the leasing agent. Harris said every resident is required to have insurance to live there.

Antoinette Johnson and her 17-year-old son watched the flames rage while just wearing pajamas and sharing a blanket.

"When you looked outside the sky was orange," Johnson recalled. "I heard a lot of people screaming. People were just running frantically, knocking on doors telling everybody to get out there's a fire."

Cedric Warren drove up to the fire in progress, and against the advice from firefighters, ran inside his apartment to grab his dog.

"They told me I couldn't get in the building but I had to get my dog," Warren said. "I had to go in and save my dog."

The American Red Cross of Virginia is on scene helping those displaced by the fire.

"Our first priority is to support the immediate needs of residents displaced as a result of this fire,” Red Cross Communications Director Jonathan McNamara said. “Over the coming hours we will work with Petersburg Fire and City officials to determine the full scope of how our volunteers can best assist all those in need of support.”

The Seward Luggage Factory building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Commerce Street Industrial Historic District.

This is a developing story. Witnesses can send news tips and photos here.