For the third time in as many years, a major fire at a home improvement center has been investigated by the National Fire Protection Association. Their latest report is of a Home Depot fire that took place in Tempe, AZ in a ten year old store. The fire, which closed the store down for a week and did $6 million in damage, was started by an arsonist who used a butane lighter for sale at the store, and ignited some plastic lawn furniture seat cushions. Roughly 100 customers were in the store around 4 pm when the blaze began. The NFPA says there were “no audible or visual warning devices located in the general retail area of the store.” The report also notes that this Home Depot had another fire in 1995, and since 1993 had been cited for various fire code violations, like blocked exits, secured exits, blocked aisles, etc. Because of the large quantities of hazardous materials stored at a Home Depot, a decontamination unit had to be set up at the fire. Smoke removal was difficult because of the size of the building. In some parts of the store, ceiling insulation had fallen and was draped over the water sprinklers. The NFPA notes that the sprinkler system “did not match the hazard presented by the (plastic) commodity”. “The level of protection being provided in bulk retail stores is a matter of concern for many local fire and building officials,” the NFPA concludes. “This is the third fire that NFPA has investigated in one of these occupancies within three years….Considering the potential number of customers that can be inone of these stores, and the speed with which this particular fire grew, there is concern over the potential risks. There is also a strong concern for the fire fighters that must attack fires in these buildings.” The report notes that pesticides, herbicides, oxidizers, flammable and combustible liquids, and aerosols — all found in large supply at a Home Depot, “can present significant hazards to fire fighters.” In a footnote, the report says that Home Depot employees in the computer room was not equipped with any kind of warning system, and that workers in that room might not have been aware of the fire. One employee called the computer room to warn them, but the line was busy and she was not able to get through.
Got a Home Depot proposed for your town? Show this piece to your local fire officials. To find out more about the Home Depot fire in Tempe, AZ, or the 1995 Home Depot fire in Quincy, MA, or the 1996 total loss fire of a Lowe’s in Albany, Georgia, contact the NFPA at 617-984-7467, or their website at www.nfpa.org/investigations.html