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Thursday, January 08, 2015

5-ALARM FIRE



Dramatic photos of Tri-State Pallet warehouse fire from WDTN Channel 2 and Springfield News-Sun

By Allison Michie
Staff Writer of Springfield News-Sun
Jan. 8, 2015 edition

A massive five-alarm fire (Jan. 6) destroyed an industrial warehouse complex in downtown Springfield, the largest firefighters have battled since the Crowell-Collier burned in 1999.

The charred remains of the structure continued to smolder throughout the day Wednesday and Springfield Fire/Rescue Division crews were expected to remain on the scene overnight.

“In my 23 years on the job, I haven’t seen a fire rage like this,” Springfield Assistant Fire Chief Brian Miller said.

Firefighters poured more than 1 million gallons of water on the flames and much of that water froze, both on the ground and on the crews, making it that more difficult to fight.

The fire occurred at Tri-State Pallet, which is housed in an industrial complex at Monroe and Gallagher streets that has more than 118,000 square feet in multiple buildings, according to county records. Tri-State makes and sells wood pallets.

Firefighters were dispatched to the business shortly after 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, but Miller said he believes the fire had been burning for some time before the alarm activated.

“Initial arriving crews reported tremendous amounts of fire on arrival,” he said, and the flames were so heavy firefighters never entered the building.

The cause of the blaze remains under investigation, but Miller said so far it doesn’t appear it was intentionally set. He spoke to the business owners Wednesday and returned to the scene to assess it, but he said a full investigation cannot begin until all the hot spots are out.

A handful of Tri-State Pallet employees typically worked in the warehouses from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.,

Miller said, but no one was in the building when firefighters arrived Tuesday night.

Paul Weber, director of the Springfield Family YMCA on South Limestone Street, said the flames Tuesday were massive in the night sky.

“When we walked out the back door (of the YMCA) you could just feel the heat,” he said.

In their defensive attack against the fire, firefighters focused on keeping the flames from spreading to an adjoining building that was full of thousands of tires.

“We are very lucky that that building didn’t also catch fire, because of the tremendous fuel load in there,” Miller said. “Tires are much more difficult to put out than pallets are.”

Parts of the buildings had a sprinkler system, but Miller said it is unclear if the system was properly working.

Tri-State declined to comment Wednesday. Another warehouse located on Sherman Avenue that is also owned by the company was the scene of a fire within the past year, according to records.

The cause of that fire was never determined, but Miller said it began on the roof and might have been sparked by an electrical issue or sawdust. The fire only caused minimal exterior damage because firefighters were immediately alerted to the blaze by the sprinkler and alarm system, he said.

“A working sprinkler system makes a tremendous difference,” Miller said.

Between 40 and 50 Springfield firefighters rotated shifts overnight Tuesday into Wednesday morning to battle the flames. Thirty fresh firefighters worked at the scene Wednesday.

Firefighters dealt with tough weather conditions as they fought the flames Tuesday and Wednesday, Fire Capt. Brian Wirth said. The low temperature Wednesday was 5 degrees and wind chills dropped below zero.

The extreme cold hinders their supplies — equipment begins to freeze, including a fire house that was frozen solid — but it also takes a toll on their bodies as they work, he said.

“It just soaks down through your bones and just gets harder to move and you start moving slower,” Wirth said.

Temperatures also created dangerous conditions around the scene as sheets of ice formed.

“The worst part is trying to keep your footing,” Wirth said. “You’re slipping and falling. We get a lot of muscle strains, twisted ankles, things of that nature.”

Springfield Twp. and Moorefield Twp. fire department crews responded to assist Springfield firefighters. Box 27, a volunteer crew, also came to provide relief to firefighters.

Firefighters took refuge at the nearby Y, 300 S. Limestone St., to use the restrooms and a gym as a warming center. Box 27 set up volunteers at the Y and Olive Garden donated food.

Ice covered firefighters from head to toe when they came into the Y, Weber said, but they had positive attitudes and remained more concerned about giving their fellow firefighters a break from the cold.

“They would grab a cup of coffee or go to the restroom and then literally come back and put the frozen helmet and put the frozen jacket back on,” he said. “They weren’t even in long enough for the ice to come off the jackets.”

Tom Lagos’ company Zeus Investments Inc. owns the warehouse complex. He said he was shocked when he heard about the fire. As property owner, he was one of the first to receive an alert from the alarm company when the sprinklers went off.

The building has been deemed a total loss so Lagos said it will be torn down. It is appraised at nearly $65,000, according to records from the Clark County Auditor’s website, and was purchased by Lagos in 2009.

“We should saint all of the Springfield firefighters … they avoided what could have been a potential catastrophe in the city,” he said.