Date: Thursday July 26, 2012
Location: 6 City Depot Road, Charlton, MA
More photos follow.
Particulars: Intense flames lit up the night sky and heavy smoke drifted across the Massachusetts Turnpike in Charlton on the evening of July 26th, as a massive five- alarm fire leveled a mill warehouse on City Depot Road.
Shortly after 9 p.m., Charlton Fire Alarm received the first of several frantic calls reporting a fire at the former Charlton Woolen Mill complex located at 6 City Depot Road, less than a quarter mile from Charlton Fire Department Headquarters.
The fire actually occurred in the wooden warehouse behind the mill, and was occupied by Werke Classic Coach, a classic car restoration business, who had been a tenant of the building for over 20 years. The owner’s son had been working in the building on his car when he discovered the fire. He immediately attempted to get some of the expensive restorations out of the building. He successfully removed several cars before he was driven out by smoke and flames.
On duty Charlton firefighters responded within a couple of minutes of the alarm to find the 80’x200’ wooden mill warehouse smoking furiously. As more firefighters arrived on scene, they began to ventilate the building to search for the seat of the fire. Firefighters began to cautiously approach the raging fire, training hoselines onto the visible fire in the structure from open overhead garage doors. About 15 minutes after firefighters had arrived on scene, the entire right half of the structure erupted into flame, with an eerie orange glow replacing the heavy smoke above the roof area and tongues of flame blowing out through open garage doors.
The fire quickly grew in intensity and rapidly raced further down the structure. Firefighters had a difficult time gaining access to the fire due to there being only one way in and one way out; and that was cut off by the fire as it fed on stored flammable liquids and vehicles within the building.
Assistant Chief Curt Meskus, the incident commander, recognized early that firefighters were waging an uphill battle. There were inadequate water supplies on scene to fight the fire. There were fire hydrants on the property, but these “yard hydrants” are not connected to a municipal water supply. They are gravity fed by a source on the premises, and were inadequate to produce the water flow that would be needed to quell a fire of this magnitude. Meskus knew he needed to establish a tanker shuttle, and called for mutual aid from neighboring towns to bring water to the fire scene. A “tanker task force” was dispatched to the scene, bringing several much needed water tankers into the fray. Water had to be shuttled to the scene from nearby Glen Echo Lake. Chief Meskus had to make the most of the water that he had, and decided to protect the main mill building that was a mere 20’ away from the violently burning warehouse.
The flames from the mill warehouse towered 70’ into the night sky and several explosions within the structure occasionally emitted a billowing fireball which disappeared into an ominous cloud of jet-black smoke. The fire raced through the entire structure in about four hours, leaving behind nothing more than smoldering ruins. Firefighters did an amazing job of keeping the fire out of two nearby wooden mill structures, considering the amount of radiant heat they had to contend with.
Firefighters from eight neighboring departments assisted Charlton firefighters in battling the massive blaze in the former Charlton Woolen Mills including Leicester, Southbridge, Dudley, Auburn, Paxton, Sturbridge, East Brookfield and Spencer. At the height of the fire, Charlton had received assistance from about 75 firefighters from 20 communities. Additional support was sent from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services and the State Fire Marshals Office, and firefighter rehab was provided by the Providence Fire Canteen truck and the American Red Cross.
Six firefighters were injured and transported to a local hospital for evaluation of those injuries. All were treated and released. A damage estimate has not been released, but is expected to be in excess of one million dollars. The cause of the fire is undetermined at the present time, but in not considered suspicious.