A car that burst into flames inside an auto shop on 7th Street created a complicated shootout after flames spread to other vehicles and injured a worker.
Harrisburg Fire Chief Brian Enterline said calls began coming in to Harrisburg Station 1 around 4:55 p.m., alerting them to a fire going through the roof of 2327 N. 7th St., which was at a few blocks.
When crews arrived, Enterline said the building, which was part car garage and office space, was fully involved in the fire that was rising through the roof.
Enterline said crews should immediately adopt a defensive position, as part of the roof had already collapsed.
“It’s been a wicked stubborn fire to fight,” Enterline said. He explained that it is an old building that has been cut into different spaces with partitions that have hampered the efforts of the crews.
On top of that, the building is one story in the front but two stories in the back where there is a basement garage, according to Enterline.
There are eight to 10 cars in the basement, with tires, fuel and everything involved in an auto repair shop still burning hours later and its crews unable to get there, a- he declared.
Enterline said that with the part of the building that collapsed, the only other entrance is a sloping driveway that is currently filled with 6 feet of runoff from the shooting.
The floor/ceiling between the first floor and the basement is concrete, so crews cannot try to break through it to get water directly onto the fire, he said.
“A car fire is bad inside a building. We have about 8 still burning, smoldering inside there,” Enterline said. “We just can’t take control of it.”
The start of the fire was observed by employees inside the garage portion of the store, Enterline said, but there is a language barrier preventing them from getting all the details tonight.
A car caught fire, but Enterline said they don’t know what started the fire. An employee suffered minor burns, but no other injuries were reported as of 8 p.m.
Everyone cooperated, Enterline said, so it expects to have the full cause of the fire within the next few days.
The next concern is likely toxic runoff, which Enterline called an “environmental nightmare.”
The building is a total loss, he said, and DEP and Dauphin County Hazmat are on hand to deal with the runoff.
Enterline estimated that they had already put 100,000 to 200,000 gallons of water on the fire, and that was being “careful and aware” of the type of runoff that would be created the second they started the firefight.
“We let the roof burn a bit once it burned because once we put water on it, we created an environmental issue,” Enterline said. They still couldn’t have reached the fire because the roof was intact, so they let it burn, which helped them put out the top floor.
There are “bombs”, or physical barriers, used to redirect some of the water runoff from the right. The train tracks are directly behind the building and across the tracks is a section of Paxton Creek.
Enterline said he kept the firefight at a first alarm, which brought all crews in the city to this fire, as well as some mutual aid units. He also called in off-duty firefighters to help relieve crews who have already been on the scene for hours. Other mutual aid teams tend to the city’s fire stations as they work on the blaze.
“It’s just a laborious, drawn-out firefight trying to get to the nooks and crannies of it,” Enterline said.
Crews expect to remain at the scene of the fire for hours still Tuesday evening, although Enterline said the fire was under control.
“This basement could wreak havoc on us all night,” Enterline said. The facade of the building could also have hot spots which they will monitor throughout the evening.
“It’s been a hell of a night,” Enterline said.
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