Heater Is Source of Fire At Lakeland Pool Plant

By John Chambliss
The Ledger
john.chambliss@theledger.com

LAKELAND -- A heater that warmed resin used to make fiberglass pools at the San Juan Pools plant was the source of a fire that caused $3 million in damage and destroyed the 20,000-square-foot building, the State Fire Marshal's Office said Tuesday.

One of two things happened to the heater early Monday morning, said Fire Marshal's detective Mike Douglas. It was either sparked by an electrical short circuit or a flammable chemical drifted into the heater in the lamination room.

Douglas said the fire was accidental.

It started about 9:45 a.m. in the front and quickly spread throughout the building. Polk County firefighters contained the fire late Monday morning. Nearly 130,000 gallons of water were used, firefighters said.

A sprinkler system was useless and firefighters were restricted when they arrived because city of Lakeland crews had cut off the water to repair a broken water main nearby. The firefighters were forced to use water from a private tank at Bernie Little Distributors on Maine Avenue, several hundred yards from San Juan Pools on Lasso Lane.

They let the fire burn inside the building and sprayed neighboring businesses with water to prevent the fire from spreading.

City officials had notified residents and business owners in the Eaton Park area Friday that they were shutting off the water from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday.

The chemicals involved in the fire are used to construct a mold for fiberglass pools. Among the chemicals were methyl ethyl ketone peroxide and acetone. Both cause respiratory problems and can irritate the skin.

Agents from the Department of Environmental Protection told firefighters that none of the chemicals ran onto other properties near the business.

The resin used in the lamination department where the fire began is similar to a glue. Employees spray the resin onto the pools to secure the fiberglass.

Heaters are used to warm the resin and keep it at a certain temperature, Douglas said.

As detectives sifted through remains in the lamination room, plant officials discussed rebuilding at the site and searched for a temporary building to rent.

San Juan Vice President Marc Campbell said all 100 employees showed up for work Tuesday.

He said about 35 people who worked in the building will be unemployed for about a month.

San Juan was fully insured and Campbell expects a new office to be built in 6 months. Meanwhile, he is looking for a building he can rent so his employees can resume work.

Gene Lowe, a supervisor at the company, said he thought his bosses would do everything to keep all the employees at the company.

"It's a good company," he said. "I've been here 21 years."

John Chambliss can be reached at john.chambliss@theledger.com or 863-802-7539.