Eighty-four firefighters from 13 departments in three counties responded to a four-alarm fire that destroyed a warehouse under renovation in downtown Wenatchee, WA, on Saturday, June 20, 2009. Workers in another building reported hearing an explosion and saw flames and heavy smoke on the roof of...
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At 7:15 A.M., the first wall collapse occurred on side C. This released a ball of fire, increased the smoke and heat, and sent firebrands to the exposures around the fire warehouse and to the southeast of the fire building with prevailing winds of 10–15 mph to the south-southeast. At 7:50, the southern portion of the A-side wall collapsed and the B-side wall collapsed at 7:52.
Exposures on side A included five power poles and nine transformers that caught fire on Columbia Street. The Public Utility District (PUD) had already cut the power to the main lines in the area and an exposure line from Engine 11 minimized the hazard. Additional side-A exposures included Burlington Northern tank cars that were exposed to heat and firebrands; a PUD power substation; a bulk-storage plant that was showered by firebrands; and the old Stemilt pear-packing warehouse across Columbia Street and to the east of the fire.
The old packaging warehouse is a single-story, below-grade structure with a cement floor, several feet below the grade of the fire warehouse basement. This building measures 300 by 100 feet with an arched roof and was sprinklered with 20-foot ceilings. It had two roll-up and two man doors.
The two warehouses were connected under Columbia Street by four tunnels. The southern tunnel was large enough for forklifts and the 3½-foot northern tunnel housed a conveyor belt. Both tunnels were open and provided air supplies to the fire. Two three-foot-diameter tunnels were in the middle and sealed. The tunnels also acted as a conduit for water to drain from the master-stream appliances focused on the fire, filling the former pear-packing warehouse with 4½ feet of water. Efforts were made during the fire to clear the drains, but they could not keep up with the water flow. This resulted in water damage to four vehicles, a construction trailer, a forklift and a painting contractor's storage area.
At 7:30, Engine 64 and Engine 91 took a hydrant supply 600 feet southeast of the fire building with 2½-inch supply lines and set up two, 250-gpm ground mounts on the A/B corner. At 7:45, spot fires were being reported across the railroad tracks and 200 yards downwind from the fire. The spot fires developed after the roofs began collapsing and embers were pushed by the 10- to 15-mph south winds. Operations established an exposure group headed by Entiat Fire Department Chief Mike Asher that included Brush 11, a Type III wildland unit with 120-gpm pump from Chelan County Fire District 1, and Brush 221, a Type VI wildland unit with a 110-gpm pump from Douglas County Fire District 2. Both brush trucks had arrived in staging at 7 A.M., as volunteers responded from their stations to the fire scene. These units extinguished one pole fire and four brushfires as they patrolled exposures downwind.
At 7:55, firefighting resources were nearly depleted and crews were not able to rotate to rehab. At 8 A.M., Smoke requested a general alarm for manpower and requested an additional aerial apparatus from Ephrata in Grant County. Manpower was requested from Chelan, Entiat, Monitor, Orondo, Peshastin and Waterville. Peshastin Brush 36 and Entiat Tanker 81 responded. Chelan and Waterville were short staffed and unable to respond. Orondo and Monitor had sent all available resources on the initial alarms.
The collapse of the A/B corner wall aided in the suppression efforts and increased the effectiveness of the fire streams that enabled firefighters to gain control of fire between 8:30 and 9 A.M. At 9 o'clock, Ephrata Ladder 2195, a 95-foot aerial platform with a 2,000-gpm pump, arrived on scene with five firefighters and was set up on the A/B corner to replace the ground monitors that were in operation. It was supplied by three 2½-inch lines from multiple hydrants.
Smoke declared the fire under control at 10 A.M. Aerial and ground master streams were continued for an additional three hours before demobilization of mutual aid departments began.