Skylights, Fire Wall Limit Damage
Self-venting skylights, a two-hour fire wall and an improved water system are all key elements in the fire prevention approach which today is predominately referred to as “fire-loss management.”
They are also, however, the primary factors given credit for saving a 16,000-square-foot commercial building from fire in the rural community of Rio Linda, Calif., which adjoins the northern border of Sacramento.
Fire destroyed about 50 percent of the structure and caused more than $200,000 damage last Aug. 3.
The building, at 2580 Elkhorn Blvd., was primarily of standard wood-frame construction with sheet metal siding and roofing. The roof structure also had translucent fiberglass panel skylights. Coincidentally, the fire wall and the improved water system were both points of contention several years ago between the building’s owner and the Rio Linda Fire District.
Originally, the building covered only 8000 square feet. Several years ago, the owner attempted to gain approval to add an additional 8000 square feet to the building. At the time, the available water supply in the area was limited. As a result, a building moratorium had been imposed.
For that reason, according to Rio Linda Fire Marshal Darel Anderson, the fire department successfully resisted the proposal pending significant improvements in the community’s water system. When the system was finally upgraded, the owner again sought approval for his expansion plans. This time approval was granted, but it was contingent on the installation of the two-hour fire wall separating the new section from the old. Both requirements were vigorously contested by the building owner, both in and out of court.
According to Anderson, however, those elements played an important role in saving the building. The fire spread quickly from the area of origin and was stopped only as it reached the fire wall.
The initial report of the fire was made by a citizens band operator to another monitoring channel 9 (the emergency frequency). That person then notified the fire department.
At 1005 hours, the Joint Powers alarm center ( which dispatches for five county fire districts via a functional communication consolidation arrangement) dispatched a residential assignment as the commercial nature of the alarm had not been indicated in the initial report. That resulted in the response of Engine 12 with two on-duty men, and a tanker and Squad 12 manned by volunteers. Anderson, who was the duty officer for the day, also responded.
While en route, the alarm center advised Anderson that the fire was now confirmed as being Highland Sales, a second-hand salvage company that supplied construction materials. The response was upgraded to a commercial assignment by the addition of Engines 11 and 11A from Station 11.
Engine 12 arrived at 1009 hours and reported “flames visible through the roof’ of Highland Sales. The business was located at the far north end of the structure. In between Highland Sales and the fire wall were four other occupancies, including paint, electrical and plumbing contractors, as well as a storage center for automobile batteries.
One hydrant available
Engine 12 dropped two 2 1/2 -inch lines and a wyed l 1/2-inch line pack, and it reverse laid across the intersection of Elkhorn and 26th Street, picking up the only hydrant within reasonable laying distance. A steamer connection was made, and per department procedure, a 2 1/2-inch gate valve was attached to one of the hydrant’s 2 1/2-inch discharges for possible use later by another engine.
At this point, Anderson arrived, followed shortly by Engine 11. Anderson ordered two 1 1/2-inch live lines from Engine 11 into operation on the west side of the fire to supplement the wyed lines supplied by Engine 12 and positioned to the north. The other 2 1/2-inch line laid by Engine 12 was used to supply Engine 11.
Anderson assessed the fire as spreading rapidly from Highland Sales to the four other occupancies north of the fire wall.
“The fire spread with amazing speed through the non-rated occupancies,” Anderson explained. “I felt our only chance to stop the fire would be at the fire wall.”
The successful effort to stop the fire was made with the arrival of Engine 11 A, which was directed to drop two 2 1/2-inch lines, plus a wyed 1 1/2-inch line pack, opposite the parapeted fire wall, and reverse lay to the hydrant where Engine 12 was operating.
Use of lines
One of the lines was used as a 2 1/2-inch hand line and was supplied by Engine 12. The other line supplied the wyed 1 1/2-inch lines and was pumped by Engine 11 A. Engine 11A had connected to the 2 1/2-inch gate valve attached to the hydrant by Engine 12’s operator.
By this time, a command post had been established on the southeast corner of the intersection and Battalion Chief Rick Crane had arrived and taken command of the fire.
Sector officers were assigned to the north and east sides of the fire, while other officers were given the task of supervising individual crews. This system of command worked well and was maintained throughout the fire.
Shortly after the arrival of Anderson, during the init ial phases of the fire, a call was put out for mutual aid from several surrounding departments. The local utility and water districts, as well as the California Highway Patrol, were also dispatched.
The first mutual aid engine to arrive was Engine 3 from the North Highlands Fire District, which adjoins Rio Linda to the east. That company’s manpower was used to supplement the crews using hand lines.
Exposure protection needed
By now the fire was contained on the north, east, and south sides, but was still spreading to the west and involving an outside salvage storage area. A mutual aid unit from the Citrus Heights Fire District, Engine 5, arrived and was assigned the task of protecting that area.
The acting officer on board the engine optioned to spot north of the salvage yard and use a deck gun to provide protection. A supply line was set up from Engine 12.
This position proved inadequate, however, and two 1 1/2-inch lines were advanced from Engine 5 into the exposed area. Additionally, another 1 1/2-inch line and a booster line were advanced from Rio Linda Tanker 12, located on a gravel access road to the west of the salvage yard. With these efforts, containment was achieved at 1134 hours.
Overhaul was a tedious process that tied up fire fighters until the late afternoon. Several mutual aid companies were used to assist in overhaul, including an aerial truck from the McClellan Air Force Base. Additionally, front loader tractors from the local water district also proved useful in the overhaul of the salvage yard.
In all, more than 65 fire fighters fought the fire. Departments providing mutual aid at the fire included Arcade, North Highlands, Elverta, Citrus Heights and McClellan Air Force Base. Units from the Sacramento City Fire Department provided coverage of Rio Linda’s main fire station.
Three sent to hospital
Seven fire fighters were injured during the fire, three requiring hospital treatment. One of those hospitalized lost his footing while handling a 2 1/2inch hand line and received a twisted ankle and a concussion.
The two others sent to the hospital suffered from smoke inhalation. The other fire fighters injured suffered from varying degrees of heat exhaustion and were treated at the scene by local ambulance crews.
Upon dispatching a commercial assignment, the alarm center dispatched Air-4, a Sacramento County-owned mobile air compressor unit which is normally stationed at Rio Linda Station 11. Shortly after it arrived, filling operations were begun in a process that was, unfortunately, short-lived.
The carbon monoxide monitor registered a higher CO parts per million reading than is considered safe. In keeping with Rio Linda department policy, the unit was shut down. As a replacement, Air-3, an identical unit stationed in the Citrus Heights Fire District, was dispatched. With its arrival, sustained compressor operations were again established and no further air supply problems wer encountered.
Aside from the value of fire-loss management in the final outcome of the fire, Anderson emphasized several other important lessons which were learned or confirmed. One is the value of obtaining the assistance of the local water service.
The in-place water sources for the fire building consisted of one steamer hydrant on an 8-inch main. The water district, when notified of the fire, manually initiated every booster pump in the area to assist the pump nearest the fire, which had activated automatically. Those actions raised the fire flow to approximately 2000 gpm.
Inter-department training also proved to be a real asset. Anderson explained that Rio Linda holds periodic joint training sessions with surrounding districts. Those efforts, he related, paid off in higher levels of coordination than would otherwise have been possible.
Need for revising records
One other lesson well noted was the need to keep records of the current building occupants accurate and up to date. Anderson said that some difficulty was encountered in contacting the business owners because of such a discrepancy in his records.
“That’s one aspect of our program that is going to get immediate attention,” he commented.
The fire was investigated by Anderson and a team of five investigators from the Sacramento County Fire Investigation Unit. The preliminary findings indicate the “most probable “ area of origin to be the center of Highland Sales in the immediate area of an overhead gas heater.
The fire had been termed accidental as investigators believe a natural gas leak in the heater was responsible. Anderson reported that of the five occupancies damaged or destroyed by the fire, only one, the paint contractor, had contents insurance.