Overheated swamp cooler to blame for Lindsay fire in June

June 11 fire on the corner of Honolulu and Elmwood took out several businesses that did not have internal fire suppression measures

LINDSAY – In early June almost half a city block burned to the ground in Lindsay. Several businesses went up in flames in the matter of hours. The culprit to blame was a free standing refillable swamp cooler plugged into a multiplex power strip.

“So, chances are it was overloading that circuit. And was running pretty much since somebody left and closed the business until it caused the fire. We got there at about 2:28 in the morning. So, it burned for probably a considerable period of time before anybody knew,” Lindsay Lt. Nicholas Nave stated.

According to a press release issued by the city of Lindsay in June, the fire started on June 11, after someone called in the fire at 2:14 a.m. The release stated that the fire was at Cumbias Accessories at 122, E. Honolulu. The first unit arrived at 2:16 a.m. and saw the entire building was engulfed in flames.

Overheated swamp cooler to blame for Lindsay fire in June
Property owners are in charge of clearing the debris left behind by the fire in the property footprint.File Photo

Other units such as Tulare County Fire Department, Porterville Fire Department, Tulare Fire Department and the Visalia Fire Department aided in putting out the fire. The total cost of fighting the fire was $23,392.61 spread over equipment, personnel and overhead.

Lt. Nave stated that the fire started with the water cooler overheating, but once the fire was ignited flames spread through crawlspaces and walls shared by the businesses on the corner of Honolulu and Elmwood Avenue. Nave added that the building did not have any fire suppression measures in place, such as sprinklers.

The only reason why firefighters were able to stop it where they did was because of a four inch built in fire break that was made up of flame-retardant material placed within the wall to help contain a fire, on the western side.

As of August property owners and city code enforcement were still cleaning up the remnants of the building. Unfortunately, this is the third fire in a decade that had started in the city of Lindsay. Though, not all of them for the same reason.

In 2014 a midday fire at 188 S. Elmwood Ave. at the corner of Apia Street was ravaged by flames laying waste to the former 100,000 square foot former home of Rene’s Custom Body Shop. Flames burned through the second story windows before toppling the entire brick building to its foundation. Like a brick oven the intense heat melted a nearby street lamp, ignited a neighboring fence and blew out windows at an adjacent home.

In 2016, one of the largest city fires in recent memory pulverized the Suntreat packinghouse at the corner of Tulare Road and Oxford Street in August. The fire smoldered for five days until the company knocked down a concrete wall and tore apart plastic bins releasing $800,000 worth of oranges that had been superheated into a heap. Most of the smoldering remains were put out thanks to orange juice, not water.

“Once [contractors] tore [the wall] down and spread out all the oranges, he was able to squish the oranges and use the orange juice to put it out,” Hughes said at the time. “It was a pretty ingenious idea. I wish I could take credit for it but the operator came up with that on his own.”

The June 11 fire from this year simply lacked most modern day fire suppressant measures. However, this is somewhat a way of life for historic and aging downtowns. Because so many of the city’s oldest building were constructed under different code ordinances they are grandfathered into new ordinances that take greater safety measures into consideration.

“Without any significant remodel or anything else that would trigger [property owners] to bring buildings up to current code, they are…grandfathered in the code at the time it was constructed,” Lt. Nave said. “Maybe it’s not as safe as today’s standard, but perfectly legal, unfortunately.”

Though the alternative in Lindsay would likely leave many businesses without a storefront at all. Lt. Nave said that many of the buildings are fraught with old plumbing and electrical, but without the property owner doing enough work to trigger a more robust renovation, there is not much that can be done. Nave added that, “in Lindsay it isn’t financially feasible” anyways.

What kind of electrical load older buildings can handle is a serious question as summer heat becomes even more intense in the Valley. The inspection into this fire supposes that someone left the refillable swamp cooler on when they left the office. When the unit ran out of water it started to heat up and overload the electricity in the building.

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