By CHELCEY ADAMI
5:07 AM EDT, May 18, 2013
CALEXICO — Christmas music oddly played amid piles of charred Christmas decorations Friday morning as investigations of Thursday’s raging warehouse fire continued.
Firefighters from all over the Valley as well as from Yuma and Mexicali responded to assist in battling the four-alarm blaze that rained ash down in the surrounding neighborhood and could be seen from as far as Interstate 8.
Flames engulfed the massive amount of content that included everything from fake Christmas trees to baskets to plastic Nativity scenes.
The cause is still being investigated, and assistance is being provided by the Imperial County Arson Task Force, Calexico Fire Chief Peter Mercado said.
“The warehouse was completely filled with materials and supplies,” he said. “It’s a high-dollar loss. We want to make sure we do the most thorough investigation possible.”
Investigators will reconvene today and over the next few days to review findings and will provide an official report once complete. The majority of the damage was to the southern part of the warehouse, where the entire metal roof caved in at one point.
The fire was so intense that it melted thick metal rods into sagging shapes in some areas.
“Everything just started coming down as the heat melted it,” Calexico Firefighter Ryan McEachen said. “The fire was so hot it burnt through the wall.”
While fire code violations by former building tenants had been reported in the past, investigators are reviewing whether all occupancy and business permits were in place for the variety of businesses either owning or leasing at the location.
City Hall has many of those records on file but it was closed Friday.
Calexico firefighters responded shortly after 4 p.m. Thursday to find a large amount of smoke and fire coming out of the warehouse at Grant Street and Pierce Avenue.
Several firefighters made entrance from the north end with a fire hose, but the fire quickly spread and rolled up behind them, essentially trapping those firefighters in a back portion of the structure.
“In the structure, there’s a lot of different rooms so they were all burning at all different temperatures, some fully involved and some just starting to ignite,” Firefighter Channing Dawson said.
Fortunately, a rapid intervention crew was able to cut a hole in the back wall to allow those inside to escape. However, they had to abandon roughly 150 feet of water hose and some nozzles in doing so.
As numerous fire departments arrived one after another, multiple operations including roof, interior, exterior and aerial went into motion. Between 50 and 60 firefighters in total responded.
Firefighters successfully focused on making sure the fire didn’t spread to the adjacent strip mall.
“All the agencies were greatly needed and appreciated in this event,” Dawson emphasized.
He has been with Calexico Fire for eight years and said that Thursday was “probably the hottest, biggest fire I’ve been involved in.”
A loading dock behind the warehouse quickly filled with water runoff from the fire, creating a roughly 6-foot-deep pool, and one firefighter fell in during the fire, becoming submerged briefly before climbing out.
While the scene was secured around midnight, Calexico firefighters remained on scene all night to put out various hotspots that reignited throughout the evening.
Two ladder trucks from Imperial County Fire and Calipatria Fire departments shot streams of water into the fire at one point as Calexico Fire’s ladder truck has been out of service for about a year, Mercado said.
Ironically, the chief had put in a request for funding through Measure H to repair the ladder truck, and the request is scheduled to be discussed Monday.
“Hopefully in the future we can provide assistance to other communities as they provided assistance to us in this instance,” he said. “(A ladder truck) would have just provided a lot quicker access to get water on the exposure, which is a priority for us since we need to protect the unburned areas as quickly as possible.”
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or email@example.com