NEW MEXICO - Raging Plant Fire Blackens City Skies : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread


SUBJECT: Raging plant fire blackens city skies

By Joline Gutierrez, Krueger Tribune reporter

March 20, 2000

Firefighters kept steady streams of water aimed on a commercial building at 4201 Edith Blvd. N.W. that went up in flames today. Some 36 firefighting units from Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, Kirtland Air Force Base and Los Ranchos de Albuquerque battled the blaze, which is believed to have started in the warehouse of American Excelsior, a foam and packing supplies manufacturer.


Black, billowing plumes of smoke darkened Albuquerque skies today as three dozen fire trucks battled a stubborn blaze at a North Valley foam-packing plant that threatened to ignite a warehouse full of barrels of highly flammable fuels. "Everybody was screaming and running around like bloody murder.It was pretty scary around here." Andy Anaya, Big Bear employee

No one was injured in the blaze, the origins of which are still under investigation, Albuquerque Fire Marshal Joe Zamora said. Fire broke out just after 7:30 this morning in a single-story commercial building complex at 4201 Edith Blvd. N.W., Zamora said. The fire is believed to have started in the back area of American Excelsior, one of four businesses adjoining one another in the L-shaped complex, he said.

The company produces foam and packing supplies, much of which contain petroleum-based products. Owners of adjoining businesses said American Excelsior stacks hundreds of bags filled with packing foam "peanuts" to the ceiling in its warehouse, which may have contributed to the enormity of the blaze.

"The fact that the smoke is so black indicates that petroleum is in there," Zamora said. Firefighters struggled to bring the blaze under control for more than two hours, focusing efforts on keeping the flames from spreading to the north end of the building, which houses Big Bear Petroleum Company, an oil-products distributor.

Thousands of gallons of incendiary fuels, including kerosene and cleaning fluids, are kept inside, said Big Bear employee Andy Anaya, who was at work when the fire began. "Everybody was screaming and running around like bloody murder," Anaya said. "It was pretty scary around here."

Anaya said he knew something had gone wrong when the lights began to flicker this morning. But he said he thought it was the beginning of another power outage like the one that blackened most of New Mexico on Saturday. "I was thinking, here we go again," Anaya said. Instead, something far more immediate was blackening the skies. "The building started filling with smoke, and I saw the flames shooting from the roof," he said. Several explosions were heard coming from the blazing building, workers said. Those may have been from the propane tanks that power American Excelsior's fork lifts, Anaya said.

As firefighters slowly gained control of the blaze, gusty winds began kicking in, sending the already widespread pungent plumes of petroleum out farther across the city. Residents in the area of the blaze were being asked to stay inside their homes or evacuate voluntarily because of the possible irritating effects of the smoke, Bernalillo County government spokeswoman Liz Hamm said.

Among those affected by the smoke were students at the nearby La Luz Elementary School at 225 Griegos Road N.W. School officials were asked to keep the children inside to avoid inhaling the petroleum-fueled smoke, Hamm said. Downwind from the fire, owners of the adjoining companies stood, helpless to do anything more than watch their businesses go up in smoke.

"I imagine it's pretty toasted," said Mike Campbell, owner of Outback, a furniture business located next to American Excelsior. Campbell said he was returning from a delivery when he saw the smoke and the dozens of Bernalillo County sheriff's deputies cars blocking off the streets.

"They won't let us get near our place," said Bill Nelson, whose floor-covering company, Big D, is also situated in the complex. Both men said they were told their businesses have sustained smoke and water damage and that Outback's roof was gone. But how much worse their loss may become probably won't be known for hours. Zamora said he expected crews to be on site for most of the day.

Today's fire involved the manpower of 19 units from the Albuquerque Fire Department, 12 from the Bernalillo County Fire Department, four from Kirtland Air Force Base and one unit from Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, Zamora said.

) The Albuquerque Tribune.

-- (, March 20, 2000

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