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Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

How is it that a reportedly new warehouse being used as a distribution center for Amazon can burn so extensively?

"Redlands Fire Chief Jim Topoleski told CNN affiliate KTLA that they will launch an investigation into the cause of the fire. The building is new and had the latest fire protections, Topoleski said."

Thankfully there were no casualties, but it appears the building is a total loss.

Obviously a distribution center would house a lot of combustible materials used for packaging, but it seems like that would have been taken into account when designing the fire protection system.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

Hard to imagine how a fire can spread so completely in a modern sprinkled building.

Brad Waybright

It's all okay as long as it's okay.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

Sprinklers are pretty good in some fires, but deep stacked packages, boxes and things being "shielded" by other boxes, racking etc will allow a fire to overwhelm a sprinkler system.

A lot depends on how the items are stored, where the fire detection is located and same with sprinkler systems.

Sprinklers will stop the spread of a lot of fires, but they are not foll proof and warehouse racking systems are known to be an issue.

Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

A lot of these places use very high pressure fogging systems that are better at indirect suppression.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
P.E. Metallurgy, consulting work welcomed

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

I used to wonder about the strict NFPA sprinkler requirements for "tall, stacked storage uses".

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

Real estate records indicate that the building was constructed in 2016. It would have had the latest ESFR (early suppression fast response) sprinkler system installed, specifically designed for the protection of rack storage.

One of the news articles quotes an employee as saying that he did not hear a fire alarm, or see any operating sprinklers. Even the most under-designed sprinkler system would still have initiated a water flow alarm, which would have set off the building fire alarm system.

In my mind, the only way the fire could have advanced so rapidly without detection, is if it started on the roof (where there would be no detection devices) and burned through. The adjacent building is likely equipped with a significant number of exterior security cameras, so I imagine they will give a fairly clear picture.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

The NFPA publishes U.S. EXPERIENCE WITH SPRINKLERS AND OTHER AUTOMATIC FIRE EXTINGUISHING EQUIPMENT, the 2019 edition is attached (freely available from their website). The report states "When sprinklers fail to operate, the reason most often given (63% of failures) was shutoff of the system before fire began, as may occur in the course of routine inspection maintenance. Other leading reasons were lack of maintenance (14%), inappropriate system for the type of fire (11%), and manual intervention that defeated the system (9%). Only 3% of sprinkler failures were attributed to component damage."

If the employees report of no alarm indicates non operation of the sprinkler system, it would not be the first time this has been an observed cause of a major loss.

The section "Automatic Extinguishing Equipment Operational Reliability" should be required reading for everyone that has any dealings with fire suppression systems.


RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

Ever been inside a building when a fire-suppression sprinkler has gone off? I have and it's amazing how much water came down from the ceiling.

Years ago, when I was working for a company that manufactured commercial bakery equipment, we were installing an oven for baking pies. It was a moving hearth oven, about 70 foot long and 12 foot wide with a 20 foot long discharge section. The issue was that the building we were installing this production line in had previously been used as a grocery warehouse and the temperature limit on the sprinklers had been specified for a warehouse, but they had failed to update them when they decided to convert the warehouse into a bakery. We had just started the oven for the first time and was slowing bringing it up to full temperature. About five or six hours into the process, the sprinkler head over that long discharge section let loose. Now this was in East Hartford, CT, in February. The water was ice cold but when it hit that moving hearth, which was made-up of 1/4" thick X 4" wide X 12'- 4" long steel slats that had been heated to about 400˚(F), so you can imagine the result, a blast of steam that filled the building and all we could think of was covering those slats before they warped or fractured. We grabbed everything we could, tarps, plywood, cardboard, anything we could lay our hands on until someone finally managed to turn off the water. Of course, by then the Hartford fire department had arrived (when the sprinklers went it automatically set-off the alarm system which included sending an alert to the FD) and we had to explain to them what happened and assure them that we knew what caused the problem and how to rectify it, by installing new high-temp sprinkler heads.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

I was leaving the underground parking at a hotel in Calgary.
I heard a sharp noise as the sprinkler head broke off, followed by the release of a lot of air pressure. (It was a dry system.)
I got out of there.
Then I went back for a look. Lots of water.
Then I parked under the suspended height check bar and took a picture of three inches of clearance.
I took my phone up to the desk and showed them the picture.
"Is this going to be a problem?"
They were more worried about possible damage to my SUV.
When I got home I sent an e-mail with a copy of the photo.
I never heard another word.

"Why not the best?"
Jimmy Carter

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

FacEngrPE beat me to it. I was going to post that the system was probably disabled for some reason.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

I work in a factory where the only fire alarm is at the front desk. Workers, machinery, fire extinguishers, fuel and ignition sources all over the place, but the only fire alarm is at the front desk (I asked if management risk analysis addressed a fire or other obstacle to reaching the alarm at the front desk when I learned this). Given amazon's treatment of workers and recent wildcat strikes, I'm gonna guess it was shut off to prevent a site shutdown related to worker action like pulling an alarm or setting off a smoke detector.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

LionelHutz Sorry to steel your thunder.
The only new information is that the Amazon warehouse is operated by Kuehne and Nagel


Here are two discussions of the difficulties of protecting high roof distribution centers with sprinklers

This information indicates that it is premature to think that some people or management failure (like water supply shut off) is the only possibility. Fire protection of large distribution warehouses is HARD.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

My guess is a large number of lithium batteries contributed to the fire and supression problems.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

I've worked on a few Amazon projects and the ESFR sprinkler systems (when specified as the basis for protection) was properly designed. I suspect (and purely speculating) that a contributing factor was alcohol based hand sanitizers. ESFR sprinklers can adequately protect water-miscible flammable liquids in plastic packaging but the requirements are extremely detailed in NFPA 30 and FM Data Sheet 7-29. Given the broad array of packaging methods developed as a result of COVID-19, I'm speculating that this was a contributing factor.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

There's lots of 80% Ethanol/20% water sanitizer that has plain caps with no seal for sale in hardware stores & groceries around me. I expect that theres a fair amount of leakage/evaporation. I know you can smell it when you're near it at the store.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

The reports say it stored "extra large items"


Remember - More details = better answers
Also: If you get a response it's polite to respond to it.

RE: Distribution warehouse fire in Redlands, CA

Or was it just large boxes or pallets of smaller items?

If this was truly a distribution site, then the contents of the building would fall into three basic formats. The first would be on the delivery docks where stuff would be unloaded and held until these large items, pallets or large boxes, were either moved to an actual warehouse environment, the second format, where items are in some sort of 'storage'. Then there's the third format, where material is immediately sent to the order fulfillment part of the building where pallets are broken down or large boxes are emptied and placed into either an automated or at least semi-automated 'order picking' system. I don't include a fourth, order shipment area since it seems that once an order has been fulfilled, it doesn't sit around collecting dust, it immediately goes out the door, either on an Amazon owned delivery vehicle or transferred to a 3rd party like USPS or UPS/FEDEX.

I suspect that the fire was in either the first or second parts of the building.

John R. Baker, P.E. (ret)
EX-Product 'Evangelist'
Irvine, CA
Siemens PLM:
UG/NX Museum:

The secret of life is not finding someone to live with
It's finding someone you can't live without

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