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Fire clouds sky downtown

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

Truckee firefighters had a busy shift earlier this week – responding to and fighting three fires in a 24-hour period.

Just hours after Truckee Fire Protection District personnel made a quick attack on a Tahoe Donner home in which a laundry room was burning Monday, units were called to a late-afternoon blaze in a construction yard on East River Street. Early the next morning, firefighters were again called out to fight a small vegetation fire in Prosser Heights.

The most serious of the three calls was the blazing fire in Al Pombo Inc.’s construction yard, and fire officials closed access to East River Street and Glenshire Drive when they were advised that more than 50 pounds of blasting agent, dynamite and other explosive materials were stored close to the fire.

“We immediately evacuated the area,” said TFPD Chief Mike Terwilliger. He said the blasting agent was ANFO (ammonia nitrate and fuel oil), and if ignited, could cause a violent explosion. “It was in a blasting container, but it’s not a fire proof container.”

Firefighters blocked all sides and monitored the fire, letting it burn, until it stabilized and was safe to suppress at about 7 p.m.

“We were concerned about an explosion because that kind of blasting agent is notorious for killing firefighters,” Terwilliger said.

“Too many firefighters have died that way,” added TFPD Lt. Craig Harvey, who was on shift for all three fire calls. “We just let it burn and went in to mop up when it was safe.”

Firefighters were first alerted to the scene at 5:11 p.m. for a report that bales of hay were on fire. As engines neared the downtown location, personnel saw clouds of black smoke, which indicated toxic materials were burning and called for mutual aid from Northstar and Squaw Valley fire departments.

Upon arrival, large stacks of PCV pipes were on fire as well as storage containers and the back of a truck trailer. Terwilliger said that when PCV burns, it turns into a flammable liquid.

The exact cause of the fire has not yet been determined, but Terwilliger said it was most likely accidental.

“This was probably the result of some man-powered activity such as vehicle exhaust or smoking,” he said.

When the fire had stabilized and it was safe to suppress, firefighters used foam to extinguish the fire and were finished with mop-up by 9 p.m.

Truckee fire sent two engines, a water tender and an air trailer to the scene. Northstar and Squaw Valley each committed an engine as well as personnel.

At 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, TFPD firefighters were also alerted to the first wildland vegetation fire in Truckee this season. A family on Barnes Drive in Prosser Heights reported a small wildfire on an eastern slope behind their house. Engine 924 and Chief Terwilliger responded to the scene, where an approximate 30 by 40 foot brush fire was burning. Firefighters cut a hand-line, extinguished the fire using foam and completed mop-up just over an hour later.

The cause of the fire is unknown, but it appears it may have smoldered overnight, and struck up when the sun hit it early the next morning, Harvey said.

The Tahoe Donner structure fire occurred in the laundry room of a Hillside Drive residence. A fire caused by clothes stacked around a hot water heater destroyed the laundry room and caused smoke damage to the rest of the house.

The fire was contained to the laundry room, and firefighters completed overhaul in less than two hours.

“A quick attack knocked the fire down,” Terwilliger said.


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