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On Friday, June 11, 2010, a two-alarm fire destroyed an abandoned meat-packing plant in Bernalillo County, NM. The fire caused the evacuation of 250 workers and residents from neighborhoods around the facility.
Even though the facility had been abandoned for several years, two 750-gallon anhydrous ammonia storage tanks on the site still contained a total of approximately 1,250 gallons of product. Utilities consisting of natural gas and three-phase commercial electric were still active to the building. Much of its internal electric service had been stripped of copper by vandals, but was still live.
The plant was built in the mid-1960s, mostly of steel-frame construction with some wood-frame areas. Its cold-storage area was built of insulated masonry. The roof consisted of corrugated steel in some areas and wood covered with asphalt in other areas. The main building measured approximately 20,000 square feet. There were no fire protection or detection systems in the buildings.
The Bernalillo County Fire Department was dispatched to a reported fire at the vacant Karler Meat Packing Plant at 9111 Broadway Blvd. at 10:09 A.M. Engines 32, 33 and 34, all 2,000-gpm pumpers; Truck 38, a 75-foot aerial ladder with a 2,000-gpm pump; Rescues 38 and 33, Fire Marshal’s Office (FMO) 33 and Battalion 5 responded with 21 firefighters under the command of Battalion Chief 6 Scott Aragon, who was the incident commander, and Battalion Chief 5 Jim Dye, who was Operations Chief.
Aragon requested a second alarm at 10:18 A.M. Responding were Bernalillo County Engines 36, 40 and 46, all 2,000-gpm pumpers; Medium Rescue 46; Tanker 31, a 2,000-gallon tanker with a 1,000-gpm pump; Tanker 33, a 2,000-gallon tanker with a 500-gpm pump; Tanker 35, a 1,800-gallon tanker with a 500-gpm pump; Tanker 41, a 1,800-gallon tanker with a 500-gpm pump; Tanker 46, a 1,500-gallon tanker with a 1,000-gpm pump; and Tanker 46A, a 2,500-gallon tanker with a 250-gpm pump.
Mutual aid was requested from several departments at this time. The Bosque Farms Fire Department responded with two personnel; the Isleta Pueblo Fire Department responded with Engine 1, a 1,000-gpm pumper, Brush 1 and Tanker 5, a 2,500-gallon tanker with a 500-gpm pump; the Los Chavez Fire Department responded with Tanker 72, a 3,000-gallon tanker with a 500-gpm pump; the Tome Fire Department responded with Tanker 2, a 2,000-gallon tanker with a 500-gpm pump; the Rio Rancho Fire Department responded with Tanker 2, a 2,500-gallon tanker with a 1,000-gpm pump; the Corrales Fire Department responded with Tanker 95, a 2,000-gallon tanker with a 500-gpm pump; the Sandoval County Fire Department responded with Tanker 22, a 3,000-gallon tanker with a 1,000-gpm pump; the Albuquerque Fire Department responded with Squad 3; and the U.S. Air Force 64th Civil Service Team (CST) responded from another hazardous materials incident near Silver City.
On arrival, Engine 33 and Rescue 33 reported fire visible on the B side of the building, where the meat-processing and cold-storage areas connect. The only individual working on-site had left the fire area on his own before the arrival of the fire department. Of immediate concern were life-safety issues of firefighters, building construction, the layout of the building, rapid fire spread, initial reports of large amounts of anhydrous ammonia in storage tanks, a maze of overhead electric lines and an industrial-sized natural gas meter still supplying natural gas to the building.
Evacuations of the surrounding area were begun immediately by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department using the reverse-911 system. A construction business on the D side and the entire “Mountain View” community were evacuated, as they were in the projected plume path model for an ammonia release.