Another Million-Dollar-Plus Fire Strikes Site of Former Canneries

Another Million-Dollar-Plus Fire Strikes Site of Former Canneries

Burned-out buildings from 820 to 850 Cannery Row.Building Interiors show total gutting. The northern fire wall is are rear

photo by Steve Hart.

Another major fire broke out along Cannery Row in Monterey, Calif. This one was fought by 61 fire fighters with 11 pieces of apparatus. Four buildings were destroyed and two were damaged with a loss estimated at $1.75 million.

Cannery Row has been plagued with fires over the years. A $2 million blaze destroyed nine businesses in February 1978. The area and its former canneries were made famous by the writings of John Steinbeck.

The first indication of another fire there came with the pulling of fire alarm box 1594 at Irving and Cannery Row last Nov. 26. The alarm rang throughout the three stations of the Monterey Fire Department, and a confirming vocal dispatch followed.

The department’s communications center set up for a first-alarm response and activated our automatic aid program with the City of Pacific Grove. A first-alarm assignment to Cannery Row consists of two 1500-gpm triple combination pumpers, one aerial ladder, and a 1250-gpm quint aerial platform. With the on-duty battalion chief, this includes a total of 11 personnel.

With the arrival of first-in Engine 233, under the direction.of Captain Ted Bell, forcible entry was made at 842 Cannery Row. Fire was seen at the rear of the building, extending to the second story. Bell notified Battalion Chief Barlich that a working fire was in progress. Meanwhile, an attempt by Engine 233 to darken the blaze was hampered by a mechanical breakdown of the engine.

Struck second alarm

While en route, Barlich had an oceanside view of Cannery Row. Large quantities of black smoke and fire could be seen coming from the involved building, so he ordered a second alarm at 6:34 p.m., four minutes after the first. The second-alarm assignment brought to the scene two additional triple combination pumpers, and a call was made for off-duty personnel to operate the reserve apparatus.

When Barlich arrived, he assumed the position of fire scene commander and was notified of the mechanical breakdown of Engine 233. He promptly delegated the first-in engine responsibilities to Engine 232 and Ladder 221.

Two 3-inch lines were put into operation, one covering the fire wall between the buildings at 812 and 814 Cannery Row. The second 3-inch line was used from the street to cover the building at 820 Cannery Row.

The aerial ladder was set up in front of 812 Cannery Row. Two 3-inch lines were supplied to the aerial, which was used to protect the southern exposures. The ladder pipe was equipped with a 1¾ – inch tip for a flow of 800 gpm. Unit 511, the aerial platform, protected the north end of Cannery Row. The platform was used as a water tower at the four-hour fire wall along the building located at 850 Cannery Row. Two additional hand lines were put into operation from Unit 511 to cover nearby buildings.

In less than six minutes, the fire had nevertheless spread throughout the second story of the buildings involved. It became apparent at this time that the only possible attack to be made on this fire was a frontal attack. Access to the involved buildings was being hampered by hazardous conditions which existed prior to the fire. And because of the fire there were also collapsed floors, walls and roofs to contend with. The rears of the canneries were inaccessible to the Coast Guard fireboat because of low tide, so the fire went unchecked.

On arrival of the second-alarm assignment, Engine 234 made a double lay of a 2 ⅛-inch hand line and a divided lVi-inch at the fire scene, then proceeded to the hydrant at David and Wave Sts. These lines were directed at the buildings at 842, 844 and 850 Cannery Row. Unit 212 was put into operation with its turret supplied by two 3-inch lines from Engine 232. The turret was equipped with a 1¾ -inch tip and generated a flow of 800 gpm.

Engine 231’s assignment was to the south side of Cannery Row, making a double lay to the hydrant at Prescott and Cannery Row. Engine 231 assisted Engine 232 by running a 2 ½ -inch supply line to the auxiliary intake, and also assisted Ladder 221 by pumping the third 3-inch line to the ladder pipe.

Third alarm struck

A third alarm was sounded by the fire scene commander at 6:53 p.m. The third-alarm assignment brought in the reserve apparatus and mutual-aid companies from the surrounding area. Fire Chief John Montenero arrived and was briefed on the fire’s progress by Barlich. When the two reserve engines arrived, they were parked and the manpower used on hose lines.

The fire had progressed throughout the buildings at 820, 842, 844 and 850. The building at the north end had recently been razed, and the fire stopped at the 12-inch fire wall there. Fire fighters stopped the spread of the fire on the south side and saved the Doc Ricketts Lab of John Steinbeck fame.

The fire was brought under control at 9:30 p.m. During the height of the fire, more than 8000 gpm was applied through master stream appliances and hand lines.

Water supply was an important factor of this fire. Cannery Row has a unique water system due to the canneries of yesteryear. Between Wave St. and Cannery Row, a 16-inch fire service main is maintained. Cannery Row itself has two 8-inch cast iron mains and all hydrants are looped for maximum flow. During the blaze, the fire scene commander had the water company boost the pressure to the grids that cover Cannery Row. The static pressure on these hydrants usually is in the range of 110 to 120 psi.

Fire Inspector Steve Hart, along with Investigator Darrell lake from the state fire marshal’s office and agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Division of the United States Treasury Department, investigated the fire. The fire origin was established at the rear of 842 and 844 Cannery Row, but the precise location could not be established because a building section 20 by 30 feet had fallen into the ocean as a result of the fire. The lost section was in a specific area of deepest burn and possibly established the area of origin.

No posts to display