Local officials reviewing Home Depot proposals — especially ones near residential properties — should check beyond local fire officials before signing off on a big box plan. Consider the following recent stories about the world’s largest home improvement retailer. On April 25, 2006, in Brandon, Florida, someone set a cardboard box on fire inside the Home Depot on Adamo Drive. No one was injured in the fire, but according to the local Fire Marshall’s office, “The fire had the potential to cause serious harm.” One week later, a 12 year old boy entered the Home Depot on the 10000 block of Research Boulevard in Austin, Texas, and started a fire that caused $250,000 in damages. Five days later, fire broke out in the garden center of the Home Depot in College Park, Maryland. There were 25 to 30 people in the store when the fire broke out. A report filed by the Prince George’s Fire Department said, “This fire was in the garden center of a Home Depot. The storage racks were extremely high. Also most of the merchandise was wrapped either in plastic wrap or in cardboard boxes, both of which suffered immediate degradation when exposed to the high levels ofheat that were present. It is absolutely critical for all members to be cognizant of high rack storage hazards. This can be found in many types of storage, particularly in the rear of department stores. Command considered falling debris or rack collapse as the primary safety concern. Unit leaders and group/division supervisors must continuously reevaluate the risk-benefit analysis when dealing with these hazards. The second, but equally as deadly, concern was the type of material that was burning. Tonight luck was on the side of the fire department and only plastics and Class A materiel was on fire. However, fertilizers, oxidizers, and other hazardous storage were only one rack away… It is likely that many known carcinogens were present in that smoke.” On April 8, 2004, a Home Depot fire in Milltown, New Jersey forced the evacuation of customers after a fire erupted in the trash compactor. “The store filled with smoke and was evacuated,” the Milltown fire chief said. Firefighters from two other cities had to work to get the smoke out of the building. Officials said the fire may have been caused by materials that were not supposed to be placed with the regular trash. “It appears accidental, but there were some things that weren’t supposed to be in there — paints and chemicals,” Milltown fire officials said. “There could have been some sort of reaction, but we really don’t know… Hazmat came and looked through the trash and bagged up some materials.”
Sprawl-Busters has written about the fire dangers present at Home Depot for nearly a decade. The design of the store (sky shelving) and the contents (a repository of hazardous materials) present unusual challenges to local fire departments, and if a fire becomes serious, hazmat team intervention is required. Some of these fires are accidental, some, as in Chandler, Arizona at the end of 2005, when a disgruntled Home Depot employee drove his car through the front doors and set it ablaze, are deliberately set. The New York Times reported a Home Depot fire in August, 1994 in Nassau County. “Everything lit up,” the Nassau County Fire Marshal told the newspaper. He said the organic nitrates in the fertilizer combined with calcium hypochloride in the bleach to caused “spontaneous ignition.” More than 130 customers and employees were immediately evacuated from the store, on Hempstead Turnpike, the authorities said. “Whatever it was, it was toxic,” said Cynthia A. Harleston, an employee. “Smoke started billowing everywhere. It started billowing through everything.” Eight injured people, all employees, were taken to local hospitals, where they were listed in stable condition with respiratory problems, the authorities said. Those who were in the store at the time of the fire but not hospitalized were urged by emergency medical workers to go to local hospitals as a precautionary measure because “symptoms can manifest themselves as much as six hours after inhalation,” said an emergency medical supervisor for the Nassau County Police Department. For other stories about the dangers of fire at Home Depot, read the story “Home Towns, Not Home Depot.” For a list of typical hazardous materials found inside a Home Depot, and a detailed report of several big box home improvement fires investigated by the National Fire Prevention Association, contact [email protected] Home Depot or Lowe’s, and residential homes, are not a good combination.