Today in fire history: fire in warehouse undergoing demolition spreads to surrounding area

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Jan 15, 2012

On January 15, 1985, a fire occurred in an 85 year-old warehouse built of mill construction undergoing demolition in Hoboken, New Jersey.  At the time of the fire, the roof and top floor of the four-story building had been dismantled, and the automatic sprinkler system that once protected the warehouse had been taken out of service.   In an effort to keep warm, crews lit small fires in metal containers.  It is believed that the fire was caused when burning materials from the container came into contact with combustible rubble.  The warehouse was totally consumed and burned to the ground within 30 minutes of the detection of the fire.  Due to high winds and rapid fire development the entire city block was destroyed including an abutting five story 85,000 square foot warehouse and several smaller buildings.  Burning embers were carried by high winds to other locations in the city, causing 12 additional fires.

This fire illustrates the extreme exposure hazard of buildings undergoing demolition.  The following are considered to be significant factors contributing to the large property loss in this fire:

  • Failure to provide adequate safeguards during the demolition operation
  • Automatic sprinkler system impairment in an exposure building
  • Adverse weather conditions, i.e., high winds on the morning of the fire

NPFA members can download the full investigation report.