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VIDEO UPDATE: Police responded to burglary minutes before Model Mill fire reported; person of interest detained

Becky Campbell • Updated Sep 27, 2016 at 11:08 AM

Johnson City police responded to a burglary in progress at the Model Mill minutes before the Johnson City Fire Department arrived to fight a massive fire at the mill complex. Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois said in a news conference a person of interest was found inside the building when officers arrived and the person was detained.

Sirois said the person experienced a medical issue and was taken to a hospital. The person had not been charged.

Full Johnson City Press video from Model Mill press conference:

 

The General Mills property also was burglarized early Sunday morning, about 16 hours before a two-alarm fire destroyed a portion of the defunct plant.

Johnson City police responded to a burglary in progress at 4 a.m. after the prospective owner, Grant Summers, reported a trail camera inside the building captured people walking around inside.

When officers arrived, the found Christopher Potter, Grant Dienes and Dustin Whitehead on the property. During the police investigation, officers said they found a small black bag "with a distinct odor of marijuana," a baggie — later determined to be Whitehead's — with a substance believed to be marijuana and a scale.

Police said the baggie and its contents weighed 25.67 grams.

Whitehead was arrested on charges of misdemeanor criminal trespassing, unlawful drug paraphernalia and felony possession of a controlled substance with intent to resell.

Potter and Dienes were released on citations for misdemeanor criminal trespassing.

Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois later said police did not believe the 4 a.m. burglary was related to the fire.

Summers had also filed a report Sept. 22 about graffiti being sprayed throughout the building’s interior. On Sept. 21, workers had painted over offensive graffiti that was on the silos, but the following day someone had painted a taunt on the other side. “Yall just though (sic) you could get rid of me,” was still visible on an upper portion of the building Monday.

Around 9:21 p.m., Johnson City firefighters responded to a fire at the facility and on arrival found a portion of the building engulfed in flames. Smoke billowed from the fire and could be seen for miles around.

Onlookers flocked to the scene as word of the fire spread quickly through social media. Hundreds of people gathered in parking lots around the building, getting as close as the police would allow, and others assembled at Founders Park to watch the scene unfold.

Firefighters were on the scene until around 7 a.m. Monday, according to Fire Chief Mark Scott.

“The fire is extinguished, and we’ve started the investigation stage of the incident,” Chief Mark Scott said Monday morning. “I don’t know what’s going to develop today. The firefighters did a great job down there last night.”

One issue firefighters often deal with is having enough water to fight a fire, but Scott said that was not a problem Sunday.

“We had excellent water supply,” he said. “On our fire hydrants there are tags with a number on it, and in our fire apparatus, we have a telephone number to call the water plant and they can kick on pumps to increase water to that area. it worked flawlessly. Whenever that’s done, the water department sends someone out there to work with us at the command post. We were moving about 4,000 gallons of water a minute. we have to let them know when we’re shutting down so they can take those pumps off line.”

The mill property has been vacant since General Mills left Johnson City several years ago. The local Chamber of Commerce owns the property. Summers-Taylor Inc. has a contract to purchase the site, planning to use it for its corporate headquarters, but the parties have not closed on the sale.

Chamber President Gary Mabrey said Summers-Taylor workers had put a tarp over the roof on that section of the building, but electricity had not been connected.

Monday morning, firefighters were back on the scene with an assistant fire marshal to take another look at the building, this time in daylight. Assistant Fire Marshal Mike Hill was expected to take aerial photographs of the building.

City and fire officials will hold a 2 p.m. press conference to release additional details about the fire.

______

Reported earlier:

Still standing.

The morning after a fire gutted portions of the historic Model Mill complex on West Walnut Street on Sunday, the structure remained intact on Monday. Though the roof was gone and the charred interior was evident, the damage was largely contained to the easternmost structures of the complex. The silos and other sections were unharmed. Water from the firefight was still trickling from the concrete decking on the building’s north side.

Johnson City firefighters worked through the night and well into Monday to extinguish the fire and prevent it from spreading. 

All around downtown and south Johnson City, the flames could be seen from pouring from the roof into the sky Sunday night, and onlookers were drawn to the scene by the hundreds. People gathered in parking lots around the building as close as police would allow, and others assembled in Founders Park. Many had their cell phones out taking photos and video of the blaze.

The fire was reported at 9:21 p.m., according to Washington County Emergency Communications. Capt. Jason Powell, who along with Assistant Fire Chief Chris Williams were at Station 3 to man other fire department operations, said the two-alarm fire sent four fire engines and two ladder trucks to the scene with 19 firefighters. Off-duty firefighters were called in to ensure the city had adequate coverage for other incidents.

“The fire is extinguished, and we’ve started the investigation stage of the incident,” Chief Mark Scott said Monday morning. “I don’t know what’s going to develop today. The firefighters did a great job down there last night.”

One issue firefighters often deal with is having enough water to fight a fire, but Scott said that was not a problem Sunday.

“We had excellent water supply,” he said. “On our fire hydrants there are tags with a number on it, and in our fire apparatus, we have a telephone number to call the water plant and they can kick on pumps to increase water to that area. it worked flawlessly. Whenever that’s done, the water department sends someone out there to work with us at the command post. We were moving about 4,000 gallons of water a minute. we have to let them know when we’re shutting down so they can take those pumps off line.”

The mill property has been vacant since General Mills left Johnson City several years ago. The local Chamber of Commerce owns the property. Summers-Taylor Inc. has a contract to purchase the site, planning to use it for its corporate headquarters, but the parties have not closed on the sale.

Chamber President Gary Mabrey said Summers-Taylor workers had put a tarp over the roof on that section of the building, but electricity had not been connected.

Monday morning, firefighters were back on the scene with an assistant fire marshal to take another look at the building, this time in daylight. Assistant Fire Marshal Mike Hill was expected to take aerial photographs of the building.

Several Johnson City Press staff members turned out to report on the fire. Opinion Page Editor Robert Houk captured this video:

 

 

Keep visiting JohnsonCityPress.com for more on the fire’s aftermath.

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