NATIONAL COPY CARTRIDGE BURNS DOWN
NATIONAL COPY CARTRIDGE BURNS DOWN
2005-12-13 at 10:19:00 am #13523
Massive fire destroys Santee industrial building
4 mobile homes evacuated; structure lacked sprinklers
SANTEE – A fire sent flames 200 feet into the air early yesterday, destroying an industrial building and forcing the evacuation of four mobile homes before fire crews gained the upper hand.
Dozens of firefighters from several cities battled a blaze yesterday morning in an industrial building just west of state Route 67 in Santee. A ground-shaking explosion soon after crews arrived was attributed to a propane tank in the building.
The 10,000-square-foot building had no sprinkler system, said Santee Fire Chief Bob Pfohl, who estimated the damage at $3 million. No one was injured.
The fire was reported at 5:13 a.m. in the Wheatlands Industrial Park, a cluster of about 45 businesses just west of state Route 67 and south of the San Diego River. It took about three hours to extinguish the blaze.
The building that burned housed AutoVac, a company that manufactures and distributes industrial vacuum systems, and National Copy Cartridge, which manufactures and refills toner cartridges for printers and copy machines.
Shortly after crews arrived, a ground-shaking explosion startled firefighters and residents. Authorities later attributed the blast to a propane tank in the building.
The two-story building was constructed in 1987 and predates changes to the city building code that require sprinkler systems in all new buildings, Pfohl said.
“It’s one of the few un-sprinklered buildings around here,” Pfohl said. “We probably wouldn’t all be here if it was a sprinklered building,Investigators had not determined what caused the fire because the building was in danger of collapsing, said Sgt. Conrad Grayson of the sheriff’s Bomb-Arson Unit.
Workers will try to stabilize the rickety remains today before investigators are allowed inside, Grayson said.
The fire started in the rear of the building in the area that houses AutoVac.
Early in the battle, firefighters atop truck-mounted ladders blasted the building with four water cannons, each delivering 1,000 gallons per minute, Pfohl said. Crews also sent streams of water in from ground level.
Initially, some firefighters were on the roof and considered entering the building, Pfohl said. Commanders soon determined the building was doomed.
“It quickly went to three alarms, and they could see that the roof was unsound,” Pfohl said. “Our primary concern was defending” nearby buildings.
Black smoke billowed into the air. Pfohl said firefighters caught a break with the weather conditions. Because there was little wind, the smoke went straight up and dissipated instead of drifting into residential areas.
Sheriff’s deputies evacuated four homes at the New Frontier Mobile Home Community on North Magnolia Avenue, adjacent to the fire. Residents left about 6 a.m. and returned shortly before 8 a.m., although officials urged them to keep their windows closed.
Before the evacuation, the residents heard the thunderous propane-tank explosion.
“I could feel the heat,” said Donna Blum, 67. “I thought the whole place was coming down.”
One of Blum’s neighbors, Verna Leitner, said the fire sent chunks of ashen debris raining down around their homes.
“The ashes are covering my driveway and yard,” Leitner said. “They are big ashes, some as big as a newspaper.”
Mario Reyes, 28, of El Cajon has worked at National Copy Cartridge for six years. The company has 20 to 25 employees who usually start work at 7 a.m.
Yesterday morning, Reyes was standing across the street with other workers watching firefighters.
About 80 firefighters were called in, from Santee, Lakeside, La Mesa and San Diego.
Hazardous-materials crews were called out because of the type of materials inside the building and the possible toxicity of the smoke, and because of the large amount of runoff being generated by the firefighting efforts.