Today in fire history:  a fire occured in a 85-year-old warehouse undergoing demolition

Blog Post created by paulalevesque Employee on Jan 15, 2015


On Tuesday, January 15, 1985, a fire occurred in a 102,900-sq ft, 85-year-old warehouse built of mill construction undergoing demolition in the light manufacturing section of Hoboken, New Jersey.  At the time of the fire, the roof and top floor of the four-story warehouse had been dismantled.  The automatic sprinkler system that once protected the warehouse complex had been taken out of service two weeks prior to the fire.

In an effort to keep warm while working inside the building, demolition crews lit small fires in metal containers.  It is believed that the fire was caused when burning materials from the container fires came in contact with accumulated combustible rubble located on one floor below where the demolition crew was working.  The warehouse was totally consumed and burned to the ground within 30 minutes of detection of the fire.  The extremely rapid development and spread of the fire were large largely due to the geometric configuration of the fuel load, i.e., large areas of exposed, well-seasoned timber, unprotected vertical openings and inoperative automatic sprinkler system.

A five-story, 85,000-sq ft building that abutted the warehouse was an extreme exposure problem from the onset and was eventually destroyed by the fire along with all of the small miscellaneous buildings contained in the block.  Two hundred and sixty-five fire fighters with 36 pieces of apparatus battled the fire for over 5 1/2 hours before bringing it under control.   Twelve other fires caused from burning embers being carried by high winds to other locations in the city, along with the complete destruction of a city block and 77 automobiles, resulted from this fire.

In spite of below freezing temperature and high winds, fire fighters were able to successfully contain the fire to one block.  If their efforts had failed, the potential for the destruction of additional property was greatly increased.

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.    

   NFPA members Download this Hoboken, NJ report