Today in fire history: chemical reaction causes a four-alarm fire in a bulk merchandising store

Blog Post created by paulalevesque Employee on May 23, 2014

At 8:23 p.m. on Tuesday, May 23, 1995, a four-alarm fire occurred in a bulk merchandising store in Quincy, MA.  At the time of the fire the building was occupied by approximately 60 employees and 100 customers.  Quincy pic

The single story building was of noncombustible construction with an area of 122,395 square feet.  The display merchandise and bulk storage was on a metal double rack system throughout the store.  The building was equipped with a fire alarm and sprinkler system. 

The fire started in the lower storage rack of an area that stored pool chemicals.  An investigation conducted by the Quincy Fire Department and the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire was accidental in nature probably caused by a chemical reaction involving the pool chemicals and leaking motor oil.  The motor oil leaked from boxes containing lawn mowers stored in the vicinity of the pool chemicals.  The lawn mowers were shipped in containers that included a small quantity of oil which had to be added prior to use.

Based on the NFPA's investigation and analysis of this fire, the following significant factors were considered as having contributed to the loss of property in this incident:

  • Incompatible materials stored too close to oxidizers.
  • Materials stored in excess of allowable storage heights and within 18 inches of the sprinklers.
  • Inadequate sprinkler design for encapsulated materials.
  • The lack of in-rack sprinklers.
  • Rack shelving of solid materials and wooden slats spaced too close together.
  • Storage in aisles, which reduced commodity clearance between adjacent racks.

For more information about this fire NFPA's Fire Investigations.  To see NFPA's Fire Analysis and Research Division's statistical report Stores and Other Mercantile Properties.