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Blaze was horrifying, says woman whose family founded historic mill

By Donna Deeney

Published 13/10/2015

The fire-damaged Herman’s Mill in Sion Mills
The fire-damaged Herman’s Mill in Sion Mills
The mill’s reeling room at work in 1935
Celia Ferguson
New owner Margaret Loughrey

The woman whose family founded Herdman's Mill has described the dread she felt watching the historic building go up in flames, describing it as "like something out of World War Two".

Celia Ferguson (nee Herdman) was among those who had to stand back and gaze helplessly as the mill, which played such an integral part in the history of Co Tyrone village Sion Mills, was engulfed in fire.

Dozens of firefighters battled the blaze that gutted the historic building which at one time employed more than 1,000 people.

The fire at the disused mill was reported to the Fire Service shortly after 2pm on Sunday and spread quickly all along the ground floor of the building.

Mrs Ferguson told the Belfast Telegraph that when she arrived under an hour later, the flames were reaching through the roof.

She said: "When I arrived I was beside myself with horror.

"It was dreadful to watch. It was like something out of World War Two - there were flames shooting everywhere, there were explosions and cracks, it really was quiet shocking.

"The fire was raging right next to the restored part of the Mill, where the business units are, and the thought that the fire would spread to them was my biggest fear.

Mrs Ferguson said that £1.5m of public money went into the units.

"It would have been a nightmare if they had been lost but the Fire Service were magnificent and they managed to save them."

Firefighters remained at the site for several hours but have already said they believe the fire - which quickly spread over the entire ground floor of the building - was started deliberately, something that Mrs Ferguson said did not surprise her.

She continued: "I surmised that it was arson because there is nothing in the building that could have started a fire accidentally. There isn't any wiring and the building is solid, and designed to be resistant to fire.

"Having said that, we don't know how much damage has been done, we know the roof has been destroyed and, of course, this is the second major fire at the mill.

"Standing watching the flames rise I did wonder if the intense heat would have an effect on the cast iron pillars inside the building but it wasn't undermined by the last fire and hopefully this will be the case this time now too."

Mrs Ferguson set up the Sion Mills Preservation Trust in 2011 with the desire to see the entire mill preserved, restored and used as a heritage centre.

In 2014, the site was bought by Strabane woman Margaret Loughrey for £1m after she won almost £27m in the Euromillions lottery draw.

The move was widely welcomed by the local community at the time but since then the site has been locked up and hopes that 50 jobs would be created at the mill, in tourism, sports facilities and other business units, have dwindled.

Belfast Telegraph

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