Rapid spread of large fire with asbestos dust

Category: National Firefighting Team of the Year

Fire department: Volunteer Fire Department Landau in der Pfalz, Rhineland-Palatinate (Germany)

On the afternoon of 18 August 2016, the Volunteer Fire Department Landau in der Pfalz received an alarm about a building fire on Lotschstrasse. In accordance with alarm and response regulations, a brigade consisting of the command centre (ELW1), assistance fire truck 1 (HLF1), an aerial rescue vehicle (TGM) and an assistance fire truck 2 (HLF2) left for the scene of the fire within minutes. At 3:27 p.m. – four minutes after the alarm – the first forces arrived and started exploring.

Dramatically changing situation

Company employees suspected a fire in the roof of an approximately 175 by 75 metre large wood warehouse. At this point, smoke development was barely perceptible from the outside. An external operation to explore the roof was prepared via the TGM. Meanwhile, forces inside the building reported a small burning area in the roof and prepared an interior attack.

Within three minutes, however, the fire attained completely unpredictable dimensions. The fire inside rapidly spread; there was a backdraft explosion, and the complete warehouse stood in flames moments later. The Fire Department members in the building saved themselves by a bold withdrawal. Only ten minutes after the first alarm, a full alarm for the Landau city FD was sounded. Additional requests were made for turntable ladders, fire engines and hose carts from neighbouring municipalities in the Südliche Weinstraße and Germersheim districts.

Adjacent buildings in danger

Together with company employees, vehicles were removed from the immediate danger zone. It was soon clear that the hall could not be saved. The FD's measures now focussed on key positions to the neighbouring buildings. In the immediate vicinity, there was a large furniture retailer, several commercial operations, the administration building of the wood company, two additional wood warehouses as well as affected residential areas. A southwest wind additionally stoked the fire and caused the fire to jump to two additional wood warehouses in Bornbachstrasse immediately to the north. The Fire Department succeeded in containing these massive fires and holding the halls.
In the meantime, reinforcements from Edenkoben, Herxheim, Offenbach, Annweiler and Kandel arrived and were distributed among the three previously formed sectors. The command centre vehicle 2 from the Germersheim district was made available to the Incident Commander. The German Red Cross Landau supported the firefighters with medical services and the police cordoned off the danger zone. In the course of the operation, numerous technical agencies were consulted. Likewise, Lord Mayor Thomas Hirsch and Mayor Maximilian Ingenthron went to the site for a close-up impression of the situation.

Asbestos alarm

Asbestos building materials had been used on the roof of the hall. An expert came to the site to inspect the situation and consider the results of a possible spread. Pollutant measurements were made in the area of the fire. For the first time, KATWARN – a warning and information system for the population – was put into operation. The population was asked to keep windows and doors shut and the area was cordoned off.

At peak periods of the operation, approximately 200 firefighters, members of the German Red Cross, police, technical assistance organisations and other support personnel were involved. All cooperation between these different units ran smoothly and prevented much worse consequences. Altogether, subsequent fire containment activities kept the fire department units busy until the morning of 22 August.