On The Job Utah

On Friday, Dec. 17, 2010, a two-alarm fire destroyed the Provo Latter-Day Saints Tabernacle, considered a “historic treasure,” in Provo, UT. Investigators determined the fire was unintentional and likely was caused by a heat source placed too close to...


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At 2:48 A.M., Gourley arrived and assumed command. Black smoke was seeping from the gables and eaves all around the building and rapidly building in intensity. Gourley ordered handlines to the west entrance for an interior assessment. Beaudry and Firefighters Tony Boyer and Jordan Fielding stretched a 100-foot, 2½-inch hoseline adapted with a wye to two 150-foot, 1¾-inch lines and entered the building through the west door, where they encountered light to moderate smoke. The two-man crew from Rescue 23 was assigned as a rapid intervention team.

Advancing into the building, Beaudry’s crew reported fire burning in the center elevated stage area of the building with flames 15 to 20 feet high. The fire was beginning to move into the choir loft. The crew also found that the lighting truss had fallen onto a piano. They reported hearing debris falling from the ceiling in the east end of the building. Beaudry withdrew his crew and reported to Gourley, who ordered a defensive attack.

Also responding were Deputy Fire Chief Gary Jolley, who initially assumed the role of safety officer and later public information officer (PIO); off-duty Battalion 21 Chief Jeremy Craft and Battalion 23 Chief Tom Augustus; and Fire Chief Blair Camp.

 

Defensive Operations

Truck 25 was ordered to place a water tower in operation rather than to ladder the roof as previously instructed. A ground monitor was placed at the A/B corner of the building supplied by a 100-foot, five-inch line from Truck 25. On arrival, Truck 23 was ordered to set up on the D (east) side of the building and put its water tower in service through the east gable. Truck 23 was supplied by a 200-foot, five-inch line from the hydrant at the northeast corner of 100 South and University Avenue.

After laying a 300-foot, five-inch line from the hydrant on the corner of 100 South and 100 West to Truck 25, Engine 24 was directed to set up a water tower on the A side toward the east end in an effort to direct water through the upper Tabernacle windows. Engine 24 was supplied by a 200-foot, five-inch line from Truck 23, which was fed by a 200-foot, five-inch line from the hydrant at the northeast corner of 100 South and University Avenue. A second ground monitor was placed into service on the A side supplied by a 100-foot, five-inch line from Truck 25. Shortly after 3 A.M., the upper windows on the southwest side of the building failed. Flames became visible near the ceiling, pushing down out of the attic.

As the fire continued to burn down out of the attic, the smoke became heavier and more turbulent. At 3:28 A.M., the fire breached the roof deck. Despite the estimated 4,000-gpm water flow, fire conditions worsened by the minute. The smoke got heavier and was banking down inside the building. A collapse zone was established at the edge of the street.

At 4:45 A.M., the roof structure began to collapse. Water streams were focused on the corner turrets to keep the fire from reaching them and threatening their stability. A minute later, the west section of the roof collapsed and the fire intensified in the remaining roof structure. At 6 A.M., the remaining roof and the north, east and south gables collapsed into the interior. This “pancake-style” collapse proved to be an added challenge in extinguishing the fire inside the building as the fire burned under layers of debris.

As the incident progressed, the communication van from the Provo Police Department was used as a command post and conference room. A tent was set up in the middle of 100 South directly west of Truck 25. Heated by two propane heaters, the tent served as a rehab post.

At 8 A.M. Friday, command was transferred to Augustus and Gourley stayed on scene as safety officer. With the roof completely collapsed, there was nothing left to do but strategically flow water into the burning debris. It was necessary to let the fire burn in pockets below the collapsed roof structure until it could be sufficiently cooled. It was apparent there would be little, if anything, inside the structure to be saved. At 5 P.M., Engine 24 was released from the scene. Trucks 23 and 25 remained on scene throughout the night cooling the debris. Personnel were rotated in and out of the subfreezing weather.

Augustus declared the fire under control at noon on Saturday, Dec. 18. The remaining contents continued to burn until that afternoon. Suppression operations continued until 3:30 P.M. The fire was declared out at 5:30.

Investigation Begins