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...
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Engine 33, Truck 38 and Rescue 33 arrived on scene at 10:23 A.M. and were positioned on side B. Initial water supply was from Engine 33’s 1,000-gallon booster tank and Engine 34’s 750-gallon booster tank. Firefighters placed a 200-foot, 1¾-inch attack line into operation from Engine 34 and a 200-foot, 2½-inch attack line from Truck 38. Initial entry was made on side B near the point of origin in a corridor separating the freezers from the slaughterhouse. Smoke was showing, but crews discovered major fire conditions overhead deep inside the building.
Lieutenant Michael Garcia of Engine 33 ordered the interior crews to evacuate the building at 10:40 A.M. and switched to defensive operations. An aerial master stream from Truck 38 and Engine 34’s deck gun were placed into operation on side B. On side D, the aerial master stream from Truck 31, Engine 32’s deck gun and a three-inch monitor were placed into operation. Master streams and handlines were initially directed into this mechanical area which contained the ammonia storage and pipe works. Early suppression in this area prevented a major release.
Two tender fill sites were established. Bernalillo County Engine 37 established a fill site at a hydrant at 2nd and Desert streets, 2½ miles from the incident. Bernalillo County Engine 51, from the fire academy, established the second fill site at a hydrant at 4101 Broadway, nearly four miles away.
Two dump sites were established at the scene. The initial dump site was on Broadway on side A of the building. Fourteen dump tanks were set up, including six 2,500-gallon tanks. Engine 34 was used as the primary draft engine supplying Engine 33 and Truck 38 on the B side. The one large draft site became congested, impeding the water supply operation for the B and D sides. A second dump site was established to support the north-sector operations. Four 2,500-gallon dump tanks were set up in the parking lot of Sandbar Construction. Engine 51 was relocated from the second fill site to the scene to draft and supply Engine 32 and Truck 31 on the D side. Additionally, Bernalillo County Public Works provided a 5,000-gallon tanker and a 12,000-gallon tanker to assist in the tanker shuttle.
Isleta Engine 1 and Brush 1 provided exposure control at the Sandbar Construction business on the D side of the fire. These units also provided wildland fire suppression in the open area surrounding the meat packing plant.
Dye declared the fire under control at 1:52 P.M. Primary operations were demobilized at 3 P.M. with the mutual aid departments being released first. The last Bernalillo County unit left the scene at 3 P.M. on June 13.
Ninety-seven firefighters operated seven engines, two aerials and 14 tankers. Approximately one million gallons of water was needed for extinguishment, all of which was transported in tanker-shuttle operations. Firefighters maintained a water flow of 4,500 to 6,000 gpm for approximately seven hours. The temperature was 79 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of the alarm; the peak temperature, not counting heat indices, was 88°F. The winds were 15-20 mph, peaking at 30 mph. The relative humidity was 15-20% at the time of the alarm, and the relativity humidity dried out to about 10% in the afternoon.
Investigators from the Bernalillo County Office of the Fire Marshal, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), New Mexico State Police and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office immediately began an origin-and-cause investigation. First-arriving fire companies and the building’s owner reported an individual was working inside salvaging metal. It was determined that the worker was using a cutting torch to salvage the metal. The worker was interviewed and provided information as to where and when he was working.
Initial water supply – The initial water supply was a huge problem, but also turned into a major success with the use of the tanker shuttle.
Anhydrous ammonia – The main issue was the potential for a massive release from two 750-1,000-gallon liquid storage tanks. Risk vs. benefit? Big risk, big benefit. The reality was that the fire department was not prepared for this type of situation and lacked any type of ammonia detector. Creatively, a local chemical wholesaler, DPC Chemical, lent the fire department several “ammonia kits” that gave the fire department confidence to lift the massive evacuation that was in place for the community. Ultimately, the 64th CST group brought the most advanced equipment, which was able to detect a very small leak in a valve and also confirm that a massive release was not in progress or imminent.