Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Massive Warehouse Burns in South St. Louis

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 3:43 PM

click to enlarge Smoke pours over the neighborhood from a warehouse fire in Botanical Heights. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • Smoke pours over the neighborhood from a warehouse fire in Botanical Heights.
A massive fire tore through a south St. Louis warehouse on Wednesday, forcing workers to flee outside as thick, black smoke rolled into the sky, filling the streets of neighborhoods more than a mile away.

Shortly before 11 a.m., city engine and truck crews headed to the long, block building at 3937 Park Avenue where flames were already spreading across the basement. Within in minutes, the fire had pushed into the rest of the building and soon burst through the roof.

click to enlarge A city worker stands on Park Avenue during a major fire in a nearby warehouse. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • A city worker stands on Park Avenue during a major fire in a nearby warehouse.
The building was filled with products ready to be shipped, included thousands of candles.

Fire Capt. Garon Mosby says the blaze was so intense that firefighters were forced to back out and fight the flames from the exterior — an approach firefighters call "surround and drown." By early afternoon, they had crews at eight, separate points pouring water on the fire from above.

As the heat intensified, fire crews began to shift into a "defensive mode," according to Mosby. They had just started moving equipment away from the building when an exterior wall collapsed, dumping heavy blocks onto the side of a fire truck as smoke blew out of the building.

Rafael Twardawa, who co-owns a trucking company on site with his sister, says they saw the lights flicker that morning just before everything went bad.

"We started seeing smoke come out of the electrical sockets," he says. "All of the electrical sockets."

He says he never heard any fire alarms, and no sprinklers kicked on. Multiple businesses work out of the warehouse, and Twardawa estimates about 30 people evacuated the building. He returned briefly to grab his keys, and says all the lights were out and it was black inside.

click to enlarge Firefighters pour water on warehouse fire in Botanical Heights. - PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • PHOTO BY DOYLE MURPHY
  • Firefighters pour water on warehouse fire in Botanical Heights.
One worker was taken to a hospital after inhaling smoke, Mosby says. A firefighter was also transported from the scene but is expected to be OK.

The building, constructed in the 1920s, is a mixture of offices and storage.

"The whole warehouse was packed," Twardawa says. "The whole warehouse — millions of dollars in freight."

Firefighters first heard there was a substantial store of magnesium in the basement, but that turned out to be false, Mosby says. But they were still concerned about other items, including a cache of more than 150,000 Citronella candles, each weighing 17 ounces.

"That is obviously going to be a tremendous amount of fuel," he says.

More than 100 firefighters were working on the fire, including backup from St. Louis County and as far away as Illinois.

See video of the blaze, shot by the RFT's Daniel Hill, below.


We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at doyle.murphy@riverfronttimes.com or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.


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