With heavy smoke and flames showing at a $4-million shopping center, the fire department demonstrated how to use less than 500 gallons of water and make the stop seem both dramatic and routine.
An arcade that covered the entire front of a 21-store shopping center in McAllen, Texas, caught fire on Aug. 19 and threatened the $4-million complex with destruction.
The first call describing flames shooting from the roof of the center near the northern limits of this town of 75,000 near the Mexican border was logged at 9:29 p.m. Engine 2, a pumper-water tower, and Engine 5, a heavy pumper, responded from McAllen’s North Station while Deputy Chief loe Garza and Rescue 1 responded from Central Station. While units were en route, dispatch advised of three additional calls for a serious fire, so Garza specialcalled Engine 3, another heavy pumper from McAllen’s East Station.
First-arriving Engine 2 reported flames and heavy smoke from the middle of the five short-block line of stores and set up at the apparent center of the fire. Engine 5 was ordered to the rear to supply the central of five sprinkler systems protecting the complex. The water tower was readied and Engine 3 ordered to double-lay from a hydrant on 10th St. to the water tower. Engine 5 laid two 3-inch lines and charged the sprinkler system from a hydrant 800 feet north.
As he set up a command post, Garza saw heavy smoke bursting from the entire 875-foot run of the arcade, with smoke accumulating in several stores. He called a second alarm, bringing in two more engines and a rescue unit, and called in offduty manpower and the backup of 15 volunteers trained for emergencies.
Garza ordered ventilation of the arcade while cover lines were laid and entry forced to the store nearest the seat of the blaze. As soon as the frame walkway roof, which was 10 feet high and 15 feet wide, was ventilated, Garza ordered one 750-gpm shot from the remote-controlled tip of the water tower. Steam expanded throughout the arcade in seconds. The burst had hit the seat of the fire, and steam pressure blew all flame out of the non-fire-stopped frame trim.
Chasing sparks, and making certain that no fire had entered through fire-stops along the front of the stores, took several hours. Garza asked manpower help from mutual-aid cities Edinburg, Pharr and Mission. Units from these companies covered McAllen stations and sent light and fan units to the scene.
McAllen Fire Chief Butch Derr commended his forces on the stop, which owner’s representatives told him saved at least a $1 million in damage. Derr said that less than 500 gallons of water were used, although the department laid nearly a mile of heavy 3-inch lines in preparation for a possible major fire fight. He said that salvage covers were spread before water was thrown. There was no fire damage in stores but smoke damage was moderate to light. Crews returned the following day to deodorize a Luby Cafeteria and a food market.
Fire Marshal lames DeKock pinpointed the cause of the blaze as a malfunctioning light ballast on the rear of an advertising sign attached to the arcade.
The arcade has since been fire-stopped, owner’s representatives told Derr.