The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

April 13, 2014

Fire’s cause points to ‘human error’

Largest blaze in memory could top $2 million in damages

PYMATUNING TOWNSHIP — A mammoth fire that swept through Greenville-Reynolds Industrial Park on Friday was blamed on “human error’’ with preliminary damage estimates between $2 and $3 million.

A total of 52 fire companies from Mercer and surrounding counties arrived to fight the blaze, said David King, chief of the Hempfield Fire Department. King was co-commander of the fire scene along with Transfer Fire Chief Ed Robinson.

While there are no records on the size of fires in Mercer County, the blaze is the largest in living memory, and possibly in county history, in terms of resources used to quell it and total square feet under roof destroyed.

Park officials said two buildings totaling 58,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space was destroyed or received some type of damage in the Pymatuning Township section of the park. Damage on a third nearby empty warehouse was still being assessed, but it appeared not to have sustained any major harm.

“I’ve been doing this for 32 years, and I’ve never seen anything like the size of this,’’ King said while assessing the damage Saturday morning.

Standing amid the ruins Saturday morning, King said officials were pretty sure what caused the blaze and would only say it was due to “human error.’’ He declined to comment further as the fire marshal had not issued a final report.

Starting in a Salem Tube Co. warehouse shortly before 5:30 p.m., the blaze quickly spread in the old building constructed during World War II, King said. Construction of the building harkens to the park’s early days when it served as Camp Reynolds for the Army. Its wooden roof quickly caught on fire which destroyed the structure.

It housed large metal and plastic containers, the majority of which were apparently empty. However, firefighters arriving early said they saw several explode and shoot flames 100 feet into the air. As of Saturday morning officials didn’t know what  might have been in the containers.

Enormous, volcano-sized plumes of black, acrid smoke filled the atmosphere and could be seen more than 20 miles away.

A couple of vehicles left at the scene were covered in chunks of blackened debris that resembled small brimstones.

Emergency crews decided early there was no way to save the warehouse. Instead, all efforts were made to contain the blaze.

Despite the onslaught of more than 100 firefighters, four aerial trucks, two snorkel trucks along with scores of regular fire trucks and water tanker trucks, it wasn’t enough to keep the blaze from spreading.

All 26 Mercer County fire departments were called in.

Fire tankers carrying water were in high demand as all the nearby units were being used to capacity. A make-shift water filling station was established for tankers at the Transfer VFW, a half mile away.

“We asked for every tanker that was available, and we used every single one of them,’’ King said.

In addition to the warehouse owned by the tube producer, Furnace Mineral Products Co. had its building destroyed. The company, which supplies materials to reline power plant furnaces along with other products, had a large shipment ready to go, but it was consumed, King said.

Amazingly, R&J Alloys, a specialty metals business which sits just a dozen yards from the Salem Tube warehouse, got away with just water and minor fire damage. On Friday night firefighters said they used a large amount of their resources to keep that building from catching ablaze.

On Saturday, a few flames could still be seen flickering inside of what little remained of the warehouse. Firefighters said it may take up to three days for all the flames to cease, but there was no danger of more destruction.   

As King examined the ruins he spotted a steel I-beam that was folded over.

“The fire was so hot it just bent this I-beam like a pretzel,’’ he said.

His best guess preliminary estimate on the cost of devastation was $2 million.

“But that’s a very, very low estimate,’’ King said. “We have to look at things like the loss of equipment, supplies and the interruption of services for businesses. That figure is very likely to rise.’’

Officially, no firefighter was injured, but a couple were seen hobbling around Saturday morning with bleary-eyes and an assortment of leg, back, arm and “anywhere-there’s-a-muscle’’ aches.

Fire crews left the scene around 2 a.m., but Transfer Fire Department was called back about an hour later as the blaze rekindled.

“I didn’t get back to our station until 3 a.m.,’’ said Andy Bush, South Pymatuning Township co-chief.

Bone tired and finding it difficult to walk mid-Saturday morning, Bush said he counted himself lucky.

 “I talked with my brother who’s with the Clark Fire Department,’’ Bush said. “He can barely move.’’

Text Only
Local News
  • CIRT team in Jackson Center Man arrested after shooting standoff

    One Jackson Center man is recovering from a bullet wound, and the borough resident accused of shooting him sits in jail after a long night of drinking that state police say turned into a case of attempted homicide.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sharon Speedway location City on track for new Speedway store

    Speedway is lining up its administrative and bureaucratic cones on plans for the gas station and convenience store chain to zoom into downtown Sharon.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Guards, county OK deal

    County officials and guards at the Mercer County Jail have reached a tentative contract agreement that, if approved, halts the idea of privatizing operations at the facility.

    July 31, 2014

  • Doss: Public has right to know

    A major part of Farrell council’s work session Monday was spent deciding whether or not to inform the audience about an unofficial police proposal from the City of Sharon.

    July 30, 2014

  • Budget falling short despite tax hike

    Farrell residents may have seen an income tax increase this year, but the city isn’t seeing the extra dollars City Manager Michael Ceci budgeted for.

    July 30, 2014

  • oakwood graves 1 Resting together

    Visitors to Oakwood Cemetery would see many  familiar local names if they looked down the hillside to the left just inside the gate on Sharon’s North Oakland Avenue.

    July 30, 2014 3 Photos

  • Police: Kids in car were OK

    The mother of two young children was drunk and passed out when police found them all in a car parked along a city street, Sharon police said.

    July 29, 2014

  • To talk – or not – about police

    The mysterious agenda item, “No. 10,” at Farrell’s council meeting Monday became the center of a heated workshop and business session.

    July 29, 2014

  • Community thanks its first-responders

    Sharpsville honored its emergency responders Sunday at an event that included Mertz Towers residents as special guests.

    July 28, 2014

  • Drilling boom challenges state inspectors

    The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.

    July 28, 2014

  • Kidds Mill Covered Bridge A span of time

    Four generations of the Cadman family have enjoyed the Kidds Mill Covered Bridge, which is in Pymatuning Township near where the family’s ancestral farm is located.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

  • Intruder hurts woman, takes $5

    A home invasion in Hermitage Friday night sent an elderly woman to the hospital and netted the robber $5.

    July 27, 2014

  • national night out March against crime set for Aug. 5

    At the last Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Commission meeting, Chief Riley Smoot Jr. presented the number of incidents for each of the four communities in May.

    Farrell topped out at 819.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • high street trail Peaceful pathways

    History buffs and picnickers in the Shenango Valley won’t have to drive to Sharpsville to hang out at the old Erie Canal extension lock. They’ll soon have the option to walk or roll in on bicycles and even powered chairs to visit Canal Park near the outflow of Shenango Dam.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • balloonquest1 Balloon Quest celebrates 25 years

    Today is the final day of the 25th annual Western Pennsylvania Balloon Quest at Scotland Meadows Park.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo