Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Buffalo, New York — 12 firefighters in Buffalo, New York, United States have been taken to the hospital where they are being treated for smoke and chemical inhalation after a massive fire broke out at a warehouse on Buffalo’s west side, early Monday morning. At least three fire companies started battling the blaze, which engulfed the entire warehouse, sending a plume of smoke into the air which could be seen for several miles, at one point darkening the sky. All 12 firefighters are being treated at Erie County Medical Center, but their conditions are not known. At least 80 firefighters were reported to be on scene along with a total of nine of the 19 fire companies in Buffalo. Firefighters were still on scene as of 9:15 a.m. EDT (UTC-4) today, nearly 24 hours after the fire started.
The fire started at the Leisure Living Pool Supplies warehouse at 1130 Niagara street between West Ferry and Albany streets behind the Rich Products building at around 10:30 a.m. Monday and was not brought under control until 6:30 a.m. today. The warehouse is three floors tall. Firefighters had the fire under control just before 12:00 p.m. Monday, but wind off Lake Erie reignited the fire at around 3:00 p.m. At around 7:00 p.m., most of the blaze was under control, but smoke could still be seen coming from the building. All employees from both Rich’s and the chemical company have been sent home for the day and made it out safely. The building is owned by PoolSupplies.com which is a division of Leisure Living, selling supplies, recreation and chemicals for swimming pools. Leisure Living is a company of Island Pools.
At 9:00 p.m., firefighters reported that most of the fire was contained under the collapsed portions of the building, but around 10:00 p.m. firefighters reported that more thick black smoke started to rise from the building. Black smoke usually indicates burning, whereas white smoke often indicates water putting out a fire. Firefighters are using a helicopter, courtesy of the Erie County Sheriff’s Department, that is equipped with infrared cameras in order to see the areas of the building which still contain a significant amount of heat or fire.
After having fought the fire for over 24 hours, fire officials stated that the fire was mostly extinguished and ordered fire companies to start shutting down the hoses and pack up their equipment. Just before 1:00 p.m. the fire command post stated that fire investigators were on scene and that “they can call us (firefighters) back if they need anything.”
Officials have urged all residents near the blaze to stay indoors and to shut all windows and doors due to the smoke which has been blowing close to the ground. At least one civilian who was inside a park at the foot of Ferry was also taken to the hospital for smoke and chemical inhalation. Officials were able to evacuate the park and no other injuries were reported. At one point, the sun was blocked by the black smoke rising from the building.
“The fire reignited again sometime this afternoon. It appears it reignited due to the earlier collapse of the roof and the winds off the lake. Right now, one thing fire officials would like to get out and stress is anyone in and around the Niagara and Ferry area, if you could please go indoors, and shut your doors,” stated Michael DeGeorge, a spokesman for the Buffalo Police Department, to reporters. DeGeorge also stated that no residents have been evacuated.
The northbound lane of the I-190 expressway, which lies just to the west of the warehouse, was closed at the Porter Street exit at the Peace Bridge to the exit leading to the 198 expressway for several hours. At 11:15 p.m., firefighters stated they would begin to reopen the lane. Niagara street from Albany to West Ferry reopened to normal traffic in the late morning hours of Tuesday.
Throughout Monday afternoon and early evening, employees of Marco’s Restaurant on Niagara and Albany were providing ice and beverages to firefighters and police officers who were on scene. Temperatures were quite warm, in the upper 70’s (F), with winds gusting to nearly 15-20 MPH, coming out of the southwest. Although the wind assisted in reigniting the fire, it also assisted firefighters by quickly clearing the area of smoke.
The warehouse is a storage and distribution facility for pool chemicals, especially chlorine. Chemical drops could be felt flying through the air, which also had the smell of bleach. According to a source who spoke to Wikinews on condition of anonymity, the warehouse contained over US$8 million in supplies and chemicals.
Earlier tests performed on the air by firefighters and Haz-mat officials had shown that the smoke and fumes rising from the fire are not dangerous or toxic. Further tests were performed, but those results are not yet known and officials don’t believe there was any danger to the air. Officials will testing the water runoff from fire hoses to make sure that it is not contaminated as it is emptying into the Niagara River. The warehouse is located just down stream from a drinking water pumping station with several more scattered along the River from Buffalo to Niagara Falls.
The cause of the fire is not known and is under investigation. Last year, on May 14, 2007, at least five buildings that were part of a warehouse complex about 1/3 of a mile from Leisure caught fire, and required nearly 130 firefighters to battle the blaze. Smoke from that fire was seen over 40 miles away.