Two Separate Fires in Eight Weeks Cause $850,000 Loss to Paper Plant

Two Separate Fires in Eight Weeks Cause $850,000 Loss to Paper Plant


Two separate fires within eight weeks caused damage in excess of $850,000 at the Charmin Paper Company in Oxnard, Calif. Both fires occurred in the same area of the facility and presented similar difficulties in extinguishment.

The first fire occurred at 10:26 p.m. last January 29. The first alarm was received by the security alarm system at the Oxnard Fire Department central dispatch office. Water flow in the sprinkler system was indicated.

First-alarm response consisted of three engine companies, one truck company, and one assistant chief. Engine 15, the first to arrive, reported smoke visible from the northeast section of the plant. Engine 15 proceeded to the fire and found hard roll storage area, zone 5, heavily charged with smoke and the sprinkler system operating. Engine 15 laid one 2 1/2-inch line 700 feet into the structure and attacked the fire.

Sprinkler system supplied

The second arriving company, Engine 11, supplied the sprinkler system with one 3-inch and two 2 1/2-inch lines into manifold. The third company, Engine 14, laid a second 2 1/2-inch hand line into the structure upon arrival. A third 2 1/2-inch hand line was laid off Engine 14 by the Engine 11 crew after completing their initial assignment.

Assistant Chief H. Conley assumed command upon his arrival and ordered a fourth engine company, Engine 13, dispatched to the scene. He further directed recall of two off-duty crews to man reserve pumpers at Stations 1 and 5. Engine Company 2 was moved to centrally located Station 3 and mutual aid cover was provided for Stations 2 and 4 by Ventura County Fire Department Engines 51 and 53.

The fire was found to be deep-seated, involving stacks of tissue in large rolls. Each roll of tissue was 8 feet in height, 4 feet in diameter, and weighed approximately 3000 pounds dry. The stacks were two rolls high and covered an area of approximately 2500 square feet.

Roof ventilation

The truck company initiated ventilation operations by opening roof smoke vents and assisted in extinguishment by operating a 1 1/2-inch hose stream off a wet standpipe system connection on the roof.

Fire was contained relatively quickly by the sprinkler system and 2 1/2-inch hand lines, but extinguishment was impeded by several factors.

Although the structure had fusible link smoke vents, their effectiveness was nullified by the operation of sprinkler heads directly below the vents. Ventilation was accomplished only after the sprinkler system was shut down. Fire fighters with radios were then placed at each sprinkler system control valve as a precaution should the situation worsen.

Hard-to-reach fire

The main body of fire was deep-seated and under a mass of dissolved tissue paper, defying even the application of a wetting agent proportioned into the hose lines.

The center core of each roll was a hard paper tube which provided a flue-like effect, supplying oxygen to the imbedded fire and releasing flying brands that exposed uninvolved stacks of paper. This problem was solved by directing a 1 1/2-inch stream from the roof directly into the center core tubes through vents and ventilation holes cut by the truck company.

Rolls of tissue, 8 feet high, eventually collapsed from absorbed water, narrowly missing fire fighters who were operating streams nearby.

As water on the floor became absorbed by the rolls of tissue, their bases became unstable and several stacks toppled over, narrowly missing fire fighters operating streams nearby. Fortunately, no fire fighters were injured by the falling rolls. Observers were positioned with each nozzleman and all unnecessary personnel were kept a safe distance from the danger area.

Rolls taken outside

Lift apparatus designed for maneuvering the paper rolls, operated by plant personnel, were used to remove uninvolved and intact rolls to effect final extinguishment and overhaul operations outside the building. Fire was declared out at 1:28 a.m., January 30.

The total loss of this first fire was $450,000. However, almost 90 percent of the total was due to water damage to uninvolved product nearby stored directly on the floor. Much of the damage might have been prevented had the paper been stored on pallets or skids.

The cause of the fire was deemed suspicious on initial investigation due to fire origin location and apparent lack of ignition source. The investigation was still in progress when the second fire struck the plant.

Second fire

The second fire occurred at 1:38 a.m. on March 26. This alarm was also received by the central dispatch office via the security alarm system. This Fire was similar to the first in all aspects with one exception—the fire was in the same area of the plant (zone 5), but approximately 70 feet from the location of the first fire. The second fire location received additional hand lines for exposure protection.

The second fire caused approximately $400,000 loss. Again, the major portion of the loss was due to water damage to finished product stored on the floor nearby.

Both fires are still being investigated by a team of investigators: Oxnard Fire Department Assistant Chief Alvin Koog, California State Fire Marshal’s Investigator Merle Pugh, and Oxnard Police Detective Merle Dove.

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