Fire destroys Sheridan family sorghum plant

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Jennie Runevitch/Eyewitness News

Hamilton County - A family-run factory, in business for nearly 100 years, was destroyed by a massive fire Friday.

Pickett's Autumn Gold Sorghum plant caught fire just before 11:30am, about a half mile west of US 31 in northern Hamilton County.

No one was injured, but the fire devastated a family who owned the business for generations.

The heavy smoke billowing above Sheridan could be seen for miles as flames seared through a nearly century-old business in northern Hamilton County.

"Oh, a lot of smoke, black, just rolling," said JR Woodcock, a neighbor.

"They had flames completely out the roof. The whole entire structure was completely involved with fire," said Lt. Travis Stern, Sheridan Fire Department.

Neighbors watched helplessly as Pickett's Autumn Gold Sorghum factory burned down. The business is a total loss.

"Oh, it makes me sick," said Sheridan resident Shirley Jones.

"The Picketts are just like our second family, so it's just sad to hear [about] this loss today," said Beth Stewart, who grew up in Sheridan.

This is more than a professional loss for the owners. It's very personal. The company started in 1913 and it spans five generations of the Pickett family.

"I worked here all my life. It's just part of me," said Ronnie Pickett, owner.

Ronnie Pickett's grandfather started the sorghum plant. Like his father and grandfather before him, he manufactured the molasses-like liquid similar to maple syrup. Watching his life's work go up in flames was heartbreaking.

"It's very heartbreaking. This would have been our 94th year in business," said Janice Pickett, Ronnie's wife. "It's just the fact that it's gone. It's just gone. Totally gone."

"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. That's the way it is. We don't know why but there's a reason," said Ronnie Pickett.

Firefighters suspect the fire's cause was electrical and the materials inside helped ignite it.

"From gasoline and oil and combustible materials like that, that just the fire started and took the whole building immediately," said Lt. Stern.

Ronnie Pickett says he didn't have insurance on the business, and now that it's been destroyed by fire, he says the family tradition will end. He does not plan to rebuild.

For the first time in nearly 100 years, there will be no sorghum harvest in the fall.

Tipton, Boone and Clinton Counties brought in water tankers at the request of firefighters at the scene. The business was located in a rural area and crews had a hard time getting enough water to fight the fire.