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24 years later, Huntsville Fire Chief remembers responding to the Dallas Mill Fire

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -  On July 24, 1991, the Historic Dallas Mill caught on fire. It created a blaze that many remember to this day, including Huntsville Fire Chief Mac McFarlen.

On that day McFarlen served as a driver engineer.

"I remember the alarm. At that time I was a driver engineer. On that shift I was driving the truck out of fire station five," recalled McFarlen. "When we arrived, the fire was well underway. It went really, really fast. Burning on multiple floors. It was an extremely big fire, an extremely hot fire."

McFarlen was tasked with shielding a nearby Winn-Dixie from the flames.  He remembers seeing the paint peeling from the walls.

"It was so big, even across part of the yard and the railroad tracks it was starting to set the Winn-Dixie store on fire."

Thinking back on the day now, McFarlen recognizes how dangerous the situation really was, as he breathed in super-heated air and battled a blaze that was beyond firefighters' control.

"With fires that size, there`s just not enough water in the water main to put that fire out.  [They] burn so hot they actually create their own wind, they pull oxygen from everything around it to burn and you can feel wind coming into the fire like a strong wind blowing," McFarlen explained.

The fire chief says it is always sad to lose a piece of history like Dallas Mill. But 24 years later, he is thankful what went right that day.

"I`m just so thankful for our commanders we had then, because they realized what was going on, and we did what we could to protect exposures, and we didn`t get anybody hurt or anybody killed. And from a firefighter standpoint, that`s the best we could do on that particular fire."

The mill was built in 1891 and was one of the areas largest employers until the 1930s. The mill was used as a warehouse until it burned down in 1991.

You can find documents exploring Huntsville's history as far back as 1813 at the Huntsville-Madison County Library Heritage Room, including photos and newspaper clippings about Dallas Mill.