On the morning of November 12, 1992, an accidental fire destroyed most of the Dole Fresh Vegetables plant in Yuma, Arizona, and resulted in a loss estimated at $16 million. The building was a noncombustible structure with light-gauge metal exterior walls and roof components. Polyurethane foam insulation was sprayed over the interior surfaces of the exterior walls and roof. In addition, wood-frame walls were constructed throughout the building in front of the foam insulation to permit washing of interior surfaces. Automatic sprinklers were installed and provided protection in the occupiable spaces throughout the facility.
On the day of the fire, the construction of an addition to the facility was near completion. It appears that welders, who were installing process equipment, may have accidentally ignited combustible materials including the sprayed-on foam insulation inside a wall assembly. The fire spread in a combustible concealed space between the wood-framed interior walls and the metal exterior walls. Sprinklers had not been installed in the combustible concealed space. As a result, the sprinkler systems that operated were not able to control the fire spreading within the walls.
Early in the incident, the fire appears to have also spread into the occupiable areas of the addition still under construction. The sprinkler systems in this area were not operational. As a result, the fire rapidly grew in the addition, and fire spreading from this area into the salad plant helped to overwhelm the operational sprinkler systems in the salad plant.
Based on the NFPA's investigation and analysis, the following significant factors contributed to the loss of property at the Dole Fresh Vegetables plant:
- The presence of concealed combustible spaces in which the fire could readily spread.
- The ignition of combustible materials within a concealed space.
- The lack of sprinkler protection in the concealed combustible spaces.
- Sprinkler systems that were not operational due to ongoing construction activities.