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Dry hydrants did not cause warehouse loss

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Two fire hydrants nearest the raging blaze were useless. It didn't matter. The building was gone when firefighters arrived, an Albany Fire Department official said.

When firefighters arrived at Albany Pallet Exchange five minutes after the dispatch at 7:57 p.m. Thursday, they faced a wall of fire that was unquenchable, said fire Chief James Carswell.

"It wouldn't have mattered if we had those hydrants," Carswell said. "That building was already destroyed when we arrived. We put half-a-million gallons of water on that fire. The next day, we were putting out hotspots."

Not having nearby hydrants didn't mean the firefighters didn't go to work, said W. Lamar Houston, manager of a used auto parts business on the same block.

Houston credits the firefighters for hooking to the nearest hydrant to save two other buildings on the pallet business site and the neighboring businesses on the 1500 block of Rodgers Street.

"Those firefighters just went right to work. I have to give them credit for getting to the hydrant on Krug Street," Houston said. "They saved the businesses by getting the water from Krug Street."

A phone call to the Water, Gas & Light Commission about the availability of water to the two hydrants went unreturned Friday.

"We work with them (WG&L) and they are considered one of the best in the country with top ISO ratings," Carswell said.

ISO is a company that is considered a leading source of information about property and casualty insurance risks. One of the measures ISO uses establishing ratings is distances from hydrants.

The dry hydrants were left from the days when Turner Air Field was operating in the 1940s, Houston said. Despite the old hydrants, firefighters found enough water to flood under the foundation of the about 16,000-square-foot building, he added.

Fire investigators used ladders on an aerial fire truck to survey the scene. The report would read that the fire ignition point was "undetermined," Carswell said.

"It is too dangerous to put heavy equipment on that slab," Carswell said. "From our observations, it looks like a lightning strike started it."

That could have ignited the 1,000s of wooden pallets, Carswell said. In turn, the fire could have set off the propane tanks that exploded at the site.

The propane tanks used at the business to fuel forklifts held about 40 pounds of gas, said Steve Dubravcic, a company owner. That is twice the size of tanks that are used on home barbecue grills, he added.

"Those tanks exploded," Carswell said. "It doesn't matter how big they are, they explode and it can be like shrapnel."

A fire report put the loss of the building at $250,000. Dubravcic said he had insurance but didn't say how much of the loss it would cover.

The loss of the building, the pallets and equipment won't end production, Dubravcic said. With an office on Krug Street about a half-mile from the burned building, he doesn't plan on leaving Albany.

"We have other facilities in the area," Dubravcic said. "We'll get our employees back to work maybe by Monday at other locations. I'll have to make decisions about what to do at the site."