On The Job California: Three-Day Fire Destroys Watsonville Cold-Storage Building

A fire that started on Wednesday, April 20, 2011, and burned for three days destroyed a cold-storage building in Watsonville, CA. Extensive mutual aid was used during the operations. Damage was estimated at $10 million. Building construction and product...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

A fire that started on Wednesday, April 20, 2011, and burned for three days destroyed a cold-storage building in Watsonville, CA. Extensive mutual aid was used during the operations. Damage was estimated at $10 million. Building construction and product storage posed problems for firefighters.

The original structure was built in 1928 of Type III construction with poured-in-place concrete walls, a wood-frame interior and a wood roof with asphalt over tar paper. The original four rooms could hold 240,000 wooden boxes of apples. In 1929, an ice house was added to the building. Over the years, additional cooling rooms were constructed. At the time of the fire, the 78,000-square-foot building had a capacity of 650,000 boxes, or 26 million pounds, of apples. About a half-million cases of apple juice were stored in the facility. There were no fire protection or detection systems in the building.

The Watsonville Fire Department was dispatched to an “unconfirmed” structure fire at Apple Growers Ice and Cold Storage Co. at 850 West Beach St. at 3:31 P.M. Engines 4411 and 4412 and Truck 4470, a 100-foot tractor-drawn aerial ladder, responded with nine firefighters under the command of Battalion Chief Bob Martin Del Campo.

Engine 4411 was first to arrive on scene. Captain Rick Pettigrew reported heavy black smoke pushing out of a rollup door at the B/C corner of the building and established “Beach Street Command.” Engine 4411 and Truck 4470 were positioned in front of the building on Beach Street (A side). Engine 4412 laid a 200-foot, five-inch line from a hydrant to supply Engine 4411. An employee advised Pettigrew that all employees were out of the building and the fire was in back of the first cooler, but that the best access was from the front cooler door. Engine 4412 checked the rear of the building for access and found none. The crew from Engine 4412 was assigned as the initial rapid intervention team.

Interior operations

Engine 4411 and Truck 4470 personnel made up two interior-attack crews. A 150-foot, 1¾-inch line and a 200-foot, two-inch pre-connect were deployed from Engine 4411. Each crew entered the first cooler twice, but could not reach the seat of the fire due to low visibility and the pallets of product stacked in the doorway.

Pettigrew requested the balance of the first alarm at 3:38 P.M. Responding with 17 firefighters were Aptos/La Selva Fire District Engine 3513, Engine 4211 from the CAL FIRE station in Pajaro Dunes, Engine 4511 from Pajaro Valley and Engine 4111 from Corralitos and North Monterey County Fire District Engine 5213. The crew of the North Monterey County engine was assigned to back up Watsonville crews on side A. Pajaro Dunes Engine 4211 and Aptos Engine 3513 were assigned to the rear. Aptos Engine 3513 secured a second steamer yard hydrant on the south (B) side of the building for water supply. Engine 4111 from Corralitos was assigned to establish a rapid intervention team and set up on the A side across East Beach Street in front of the Martinelli Cider warehouse.

Watsonville Division Chief Chris Johnson requested a second alarm at 3:45 P.M. The response consisted of Aptos Fire District Engine 3511, Central Santa Cruz Fire District Truck 3472 and Santa Cruz City Engine 3112, along with a chief officer from Aptos and one from North Monterey County. These engines were staged on side B and the crews were assigned to firefighting operations on sides A and C. Central Santa Cruz Fire District Truck 3472 was positioned at the rear (C side) and placed its 105-foot aerial to the roof. This unit was supplied by Aptos Engine 3513. A staging area was established at West Beach and Industrial Road. Aptos Chief Jeff Terpstra was assigned Division C and CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Greg Estrada was assigned Division A. They were responsible for coordinating fire attack and ventilation. Johnson called for Pacific Gas and Electric to terminate power to the building.

This content continues onto the next page...