JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) In the early morning hours of Thursday, January 7 a fire broke out at the Hexpol Compounding rubber manufacturing plant in Jonesborough.
Black, rising smoke could be seen across Washington County throughout the day as local fire crews and first responders battled the flames and elements on scene for nearly 24 hours.
Though all 22 employees working overnight when the fire broke out around 1:30 a.m. were able to escape, John Tinker was badly injured.
“It was just one of those situations where he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” says family member Katie Hicks.
Tinker worked for Hexpol Compounding for several years before his life changed in that overnight fire.
“He did suffer first, second and third-degree burns all over his body. He is scheduled for surgery and skin grafts later on, but right now it’s just about getting his system under control and the trauma on his body,” said Hicks.
Her husband was also working at the Hexpol plant the night of the fire with Tinker, but escaped uninjured.
“There was a loud explosion that could be heard all over the plant and as soon as that took place they immediately began evacuating. Once they all got to the parking lot and realized what happened that’s when they started to call 911,” said Katie Hicks.
Tinker was flown early Thursday morning to the burn unit at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where he remains.
“They have told us it could be weeks or months, it will depend on how his body heals after his surgery, physical therapy and occupational therapy,” said Hicks. “It’s going to be a long haul but we are just thankful that he has the opportunity to do it.”
Family members reiterate how grateful they are that the outcome of this fire was not worse.
“It’s a miracle that John is alive and honestly I’m surprised that there were not more injuries because of what could’ve happened, and thankfully didn’t, because of how quickly they acted,” said Hicks.
She added for her family and others, seeing the Hexpol plant that has been a part of the community for decades up in flames was hard to swallow.
“I just lost. We have so many family members that work there, but that whole company is like a family. It’s been there for a long time and it’s really sad and heartbreaking to see that come to such an abrupt end,” said Hicks.
To help support Tinker and his immediate family, Hicks organized a GoFundMe page to raise money to help with bills and support family members in their journey to go visit and stay with him as he recovers in North Carolina.
“We just want to make sure that we do everything we possibly can to let them focus on his recovery and not worry about how they are going to afford getting there,” said Hicks.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is working with the Jonesborough Police Department to determine what caused the overnight explosion and fire.
Cleanup efforts continue this week at what is left of the Hexpol Compounding plant.