A small fire started in the basement of a warehouse in St. Louis on Nov. 15, but after some hazardous materials ignited, a five-alarm blaze broke out.
At first firefighters had a difficult time finding and containing the smoky interior of the business, Park Warehouse Service.
Eventually, firefighters were ordered out of the building by radio call and loud horn blast. About 11:30 a.m., there was a whooshing sound, and black smoke billowed out of the building’s doors and windows. Fire burst through the roof, and a wall on the south side of the building collapsed onto a firetruck.
Bricks and other debris littered the street around the firetruck, and aerial images showed the roof of the truck’s cab caved in, but no one suffered an injury in the collapse. When the fire broke out, there was a pillar of thick, black smoke.
“Very intense fire, burning for a long time,” said St. Louis Fire Capt. Garon Mosby. “Any structure is going to be weakened. Collapse was more or less imminent, and it happened sooner rather than later.”
Mosby said a firefighter had injuries from smoke inhalation, but ended up treated and released from a hospital.
At least a dozen workers were inside the building when the fire started, but they all escaped. One worker was taken to a hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.
Mosby said Cardinal Glennon and St. Louis University hospital officials were notified of the smoke headed their way and advised to shut down their heating and air conditioning systems so they would not pull the smoke inward.
Mosby said there were materials in the building that are hazardous when burned, such as Styrofoam products, and that officials planned to talk to the operators of the businesses at the warehouse to find out what other materials were stored there.
The department tweeted a warning to neighbors about the possibility of inhaling dangerous chemicals from the fire.
“If your home is in the path of the smoke plume, keep your windows closed and discontinue the usage of your HVAC system to reduce the amount of smoke drawn into your home,” the tweet said.
Mosby said the most important part of that warning was keeping windows shut.
The fire started on the south end of the building, which extends a block to the north. It was still burning and spreading as of 2:45 p.m., when Mosby said fire crews had learned about more than 150,000 citronella candles stored inside of the building. The fire had not yet gotten to the candles. Citronella is an essential oil primarily used as an insect repellent.
“That’s just fuel,” Mosby said when asked why they were concerned about the candles.
Mosby said the building dated to the 1920s. Part of the building has sprinkler systems, but the basement area where the fire was spreading may not. He described the basement, where the fire started and firefighters first tried to contain the blaze, as partitioned and maze-like.