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Wright Brothers airplane factory in West Dayton damaged by fire

Alejandro Figueroa

A fire damaged the historic Wright Brothers airplane factory site most of the day Sunday.

Department crews responded to a report of a structure fire in the area of Inland Ave. and West Third Street at 2:28 a.m. on Sunday. When crews arrived, they were met with heavy fire across all the hangar buildings, according to a press release.

Due to the extensive nature of the fire, crews were not able to go inside the building. Instead, they set multiple aerial ladders and directed water through the burned-through openings in the roof.

No injuries were reported.

Fire department officials said it’s too early to assess the damage or how the fire started in the first place. A formal damage estimate is pending.

The roof of hangar one and two collapsed, and the roof of hangar four was still burning by Monday morning. Although fire department officials at the site said they’re monitoring it and letting it burn out on its own since they can’t get to it.

Dan Patterson, an aviation historian and photographer, said the fire is a tragedy to the legacy of the Wright brothers in Dayton.

"The historical loss in buildings can be recreated and rebuilt. But the original, it's gone," Patterson said. "And that's a tragedy. So it's a loss as far as the provenance of the original. And where that goes from here. We'll have to find out."

The Wright Company Factory was the first site in the country built for the purpose of manufacturing airplanes, parts of which were built in 1910.

In 2018, the City of Dayton purchased the 54-acre factory site for $1 million to help redevelop the property.

The follow year it was added to the National Register of Historic Places — preservationists had lobbied for more than a decade to receive the special site designation.

Part of the 54-acre site surrounding the factory was formerly classified as a brownfield — an area that might contain hazardous materials — by the Ohio EPA.

After investing over $5.3 million, the city and its partners cleaned and remediated the area to a commercial standard. That city has attempted to redevelop the area. It opened the West Branch Library near the site last year.

There were also plans to turn part of the site into a green space with walking paths, lighting and benches.

Kendell Thompson, the superintendent of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park, said the organization and other stakeholders are now meeting to figure what happens next.

"Despite over 100 years of intense use, the Wright Company Factory still had most of its original wood, roof windows and other historic fabric intact," Thompson said

In a statement, a City of Dayton spokesperson said it’s working on next steps after the incident.

“The City of Dayton has been working to preserve the historic factory buildings and oversee future development of the area,” The spokesperson wrote in the letter. “The City’s development team is in the process of contacting stakeholders and partners to convene a meeting to determine next steps for future redevelopment.”

Anyone with information regarding this fire incident is encouraged to contact the DFD Fire Investigation Unit at 937-333-TIPS.

Alejandro Figueroa is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Alejandro Figueroa covers food insecurity and the business of food for WYSO through Report for America — a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Alejandro particularly covers the lack of access to healthy and affordable food in Southwest Ohio communities, and what local government and nonprofits are doing to address it. He also covers rural and urban farming

Email: afigueroa@wyso.org
Phone: 937-917-5943