On The Job: Montana

On June 11, 2009, a three-alarm fire destroyed a five-story warehouse in Butte, MT. The 45-by-100-foot structure was built in 1902 of Type IV heavy timber construction by Armour and Co. and originally was used as a meat warehouse, although it had many...


On June 11, 2009, a three-alarm fire destroyed a five-story warehouse in Butte, MT. The 45-by-100-foot structure was built in 1902 of Type IV heavy timber construction by Armour and Co. and originally was used as a meat warehouse, although it had many uses over its 107-year history, most recently to...


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At 3:44 A.M., Fire Chief Jeff Miller arrived on scene and took command of operations. Miller placed the Home Atherton and Big Butte volunteer fire departments on standby at their stations for coverage. Callbacks of career firefighters were also initiated.

Miller requested an additional aerial from the Anaconda Fire Department, 26 miles west of Butte, at 5:30 A.M. Ladder 4, a 75-foot aerial ladder with a 1,500-gpm pump, responded with two firefighters. It took approximately 45 minutes for this apparatus to arrive on the fireground. Upon arrival, Anaconda Ladder 4 was positioned at the A/D corner and set up for master stream operations. Race Track Engine 77 laid 800 feet of five-inch supply line from a hydrant at Platinum and Utah streets to Anaconda Ladder 4. This engine was then placed inline and relay pumped to Anaconda Ladder 4.

At 7:30 A.M., Home Atherton was requested to respond to the scene. Engine 2, a 1,250-gpm pumper, responded with nine firefighters. This engine laid a 300-foot, five-inch supply line from a hydrant at Iron and Arizona streets to the A/B corner of the building and placed its 1,000-gpm deck gun into operation. The Centerville Volunteer Fire Department was placed on standby when Home Atherton responded to the scene. Miller declared the fire under control at 1:30 P.M. Mutual aid units were released at 2:33 P.M.

Forty-three career and volunteer firefighters operated two aerial apparatus and five engines at the scene. Firefighters operated three aerial master streams; five portable master stream devices; two deck guns and numerous handlines to control the fire. Six hydrants on the municipal water system supplied 3.8 million gallons of water to extinguish the fire. The last Butte-Silver Bow equipment left the scene at 1:55 P.M. on June 15.

Two Other Fires

While firefighters were working to control the warehouse fire, two other fires occurred. At 6:51 A.M., a structure fire was reported in at 725 South Arizona St., several blocks northeast of the warehouse fire. Butte-Silver Bow recall firefighters responded with Engine 2 and Rescue 1 along with Race Track firefighters. Fire was found in the entryway of a house with extension to the attic. The structure was being used for storage. The fire was quickly extinguished with minimal damage to the house.

At 8:55 A.M., firefighters were dispatched to a structure fire at 135 Park St. Callback firefighters again responded with Engine 2 and Rescue 1 along with Big Butte firefighters. Two large bay doors had been set on fire from the exterior. A nearby business owner had extinguished the fire just as firefighters arrived on scene. Both of the fires were investigated and determined to be arson. Later in the day, it was discovered that a third fire had been set in the entryway of a mining supply company. This fire had burned itself out and was not reported to the fire department. This fire was also determined to be arson. All three fires occurred within four blocks of the warehouse fire. Officials conducting a joint fire department/law enforcement criminal investigation said they believe these fires were not related to the warehouse fire, but were caused by a copycat.

Fire Investigation

A two-day investigation of the warehouse fire was conducted by Butte-Silver Bow Fire Department Fire Marshal John Lasky, Montana Fire Marshal's Bureau Fire Marshal Allen Lorenz and Deputy Fire Marshal Pat Clinch, and Special Agent Brian McNamee of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). A large crane was used to remove the walls that remained standing in order to provide safe access for fire investigators. It appears that the fire originated on the first floor toward the center of the warehouse. The fire rapidly extended up the open elevator shaft to the second and third floors. The cause of the fire is undetermined. The fire destroyed more than 20,000 tires that were stored in the warehouse. Damage was estimated at $500,000 to the building and $1.25 million to the contents.

JAY K. BRADISH/IFPA, a Firehouse® news editor, is a former captain in the Bradford Township, PA, Fire Department. He has been a volunteer firefighter and fire photographer for more than 25 years.