Hundreds of pallets, two dozen vehicles destroyed in blaze
Last updated 8/7/2018 at 7:57am
CLOVIS — Officials are investigating a fire of “suspicious nature” that erupted at a pallet business in south Clovis early Monday morning, a bright hot blaze visible from miles away that drew seven fire units, damaged property and resulted in road closures.
There were no injuries, said Clovis Fire Chief Mike Nolen, but hundreds of pallets were reduced to ash, dozens of vehicles in an adjoining recycling lot were scorched and heat radiation melted the city logo on one of the fire engines, among other damages.
Personnel from Clovis police and fire departments were dispatched just before 4 a.m. to a report of a pallet on fire on the 900 block of South Prince Street, according to a joint news release. They realized quickly it was much more than that.
“Upon arrival, responding units discovered the fire was at 1000 E. Brady Ave., Lopez Pallet Service and involved the entire property utilized by this business,” said the release.
That included “hundreds and hundreds of pallets that burned to ash,” as well as a shop, forklift and another vehicle on the property, Nolen said.
Additionally, the release noted “the fire also damaged between 20 to 25 vehicles, which were located in Ed’s Recycling facility,” a business whose lot of older vehicles directly adjoined the pallet yard.
Nolen said it was the combination of oak pallets and magnesium in the cars that made the fire as bright and hot as it was, like a beacon in the pre-dawn darkness.
“The battalion chief felt it was probably eight times the size of a normal structure fire. With that said, it’s not necessarily one of the biggest that we’ve fought,” Nolen said, estimating the fire was “knocked down” around 7 a.m. while responders stayed on scene till early afternoon putting out remaining hot spots.
“There have been some really massive fires. ... This was an excessively hot fire, because of the fire load (pallets) being oak,” Nolen said. “When it set off the vehicles, it set off the magnesium parts. When water hits magnesium, it just throws brilliant sparks of molten metal everywhere. Had this been inside a big structure, it would have had to burn to the ground.”
The “severe radiation of the heat” produced steam from an above-ground pool east of the property, Nolen added, and “basically melted the city of Clovis Fire Department (emblem) on one of the doors (of a fire truck) that was parked well away from the fire.”
The truck is “still very usable,” he said. That particular damage, at least, was mostly cosmetic.
Residents nearby the scene described their own experience of the intensity of the blaze. Leffy Landeros, who lives across the street, said her fiancee was able to see the fire from miles away at work at Southwest Cheese on the Curry/Roosevelt county line.
“I opened the front door, and the heat just hit me,” she said. “It was huge.”
Johnny Tafoya said he watched the response from around 4 a.m. onward, also across the street. Initially, the flames were “higher than the telephone pole” in front of the affected property, he said. There were still stacks of pallets on the side of the property nearest the street, but behind them was a yard of brittle ash, nails and metal tins.
Both residents said they heard of a smaller blaze breaking out near the pallet fire and close to the same time. Nolen confirmed as much, and said it adds to the suspicious nature of the incident.
“The reason we’re suspicious is there were two fires, basically in the same area, at that time of day,” Nolen said. “Right before this call came in, we had been called to a dumpster on fire on Piersall (Avenue), and then immediately after we had the knockdown on that, this call came in, which is straight north of that.”
The fire closed the roadway on East Brady Avenue between Prince and Norris streets.
“Also affected were Brady and South Oak Street up to the school, due to fire supply lines being placed on the roadway to supply water to the fire engines involved in this incident,” the news release said, encouraging “anyone who may have seen anything” to contact authorities.