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...


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Action plans developed

At 10 P.M. Wednesday, Terpstra was assigned to the Salvage Group and Chief Jim Delucchi from the Scotts Valley Fire Protection District was assigned to C-side operations. Terpstra met with the company’s president, John Martinelli, and his employees and removed pallets of apple juice from the D side of the structure before the fire could reach that side. This effort salvaged $1.5 million of product.

The incident was divided into 12-hour operation periods with action plans developed for each operating period beginning at 8 A.M. on Thursday. The day shift was from 8 A.M. to 8 P.M., and the night shift from 8 P.M. to 8 A.M. Shifts beginning Thursday were filled through the California Master Mutual Aid Agreement. Individual fire agencies were asked for availability first and then resources were requested through mutual aid from the county operational area and finally through the California Region II Area operational coordinator.

At 10:32 A.M. the following day, an ammonia transport truck from Hills Brothers in San Jose responded to the scene and removed the remaining anhydrous ammonia from the system.

Watsonville Fire Chief Mark Bisbee declared the fire under control at 6:41 P.M. on Saturday, April 23. Mutual aid units were released at this time. Watsonville units conducted periodic inspections and patrols for hot spots until April 25.

Investigation

A five-day investigation by Watsonville Fire Department and private insurance investigators determined the fire was caused by an open flame from a torch being used during roofing repairs. The flame from the torch came in contact with combustibles through a hole in the roof and into the wooden ceiling components. Burning roofing materials fell into the lower-level fuels, igniting them. Damage was estimated at $6.1 million to the building and $3.9 million to the contents.

Eighty-one firefighters battled the fire at its height. Eighteen engines, four trucks and 12 chief officers operated at the scene. The refrigeration system tank held 5,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia. A total of 5,700 pounds were extracted from the tank and piping. There were no civilian or firefighter injuries.

JAY K. BRADISH/IFPA, 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.