NFPA: Improper Storage of Chemicals Contributed to Phoenix Fire

May 1, 2002
The August 2000 fire that destroyed a Phoenix warehouse just after workers left for the day is one of a series of fires over the past few years caused by improper storage of chemicals.

The August 2000 fire that destroyed a multi-tenanted warehouse building in Phoenix, just after workers left for the day, is just one of a series of fires over the past few years caused by improper storage of chemicals, according to the fire investigations unit for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The Phoenix fire was caused by a number of factors, including lack of segregation between oxidizers and other incompatible materials, lack of proper storage configuration for oxidizers and inadequate sprinkler protection, according to the report. Property damage from the fire is estimated at more than $100 million.

The fire began in the building''s home and garden supply area, which stored a dangerous combination of oxidizers, such as pool chemicals, as well as fertilizers and pesticides. At approximately 5 p.m., less than one hour after workers left for the day, smoke was spotted coming from the home and garden portion of the warehouse. At the same time, employees from the pharmaceutical distribution operation, who also occupied the building, heard banging noises from that area.

The Phoenix Fire Department arrived at the scene within minutes after the fire was reported. Portions of the outer walls of the building were collapsing and the fire was spreading rapidly. Fire department units extinguished the four-alarm fire by the next morning. Five firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. More than 80 civilians from surrounding neighborhoods were evacuated from their homes, but were allowed to return the next day.

According to NFPA''s report, the Phoenix warehouse fire is the latest in a series of incidents that resulted in serious or total property damage and, in some cases, multiple firefighter fatalities.

"While each of the warehouse or bulk retail fires we''ve investigated involved a unique set of circumstances, inadequate storage of oxidizers and other chemicals has been the common theme among them all," says Robert Duval, senior fire investigator for NFPA.

Duval emphasized the importance of properly handling and storing oxidizers to maintain building and occupant safety. "When contaminated, oxidizers can give off a tremendous amount of heat and smoke. Gross contamination of these materials can cause exothermic or explosive reactions," he adds. "That''s why proper storage and configuration of these chemicals is key." He also notes that these types of fires pose unique hazards for firefighters.

A summary of the report findings, as well as selected other investigative reports, can be found at NFPA members can download the entire investigative report for free.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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