Note: This story was last updated at 2:30 p.m. Aug. 14.
A fire that appears to have started with oily rags being stored improperly in a kitchen caused heavy damage to the Fraternal Order of Eagles on Oak Ridge Turnpike early Saturday, and the structure may have to be rebuilt, authorities said.
The fire was reported at about 2 a.m. Saturday at 1650 Oak Ridge Turnpike. The Eagles building, which has yellow siding, is the first building on the right side of the Turnpike as you head toward Kingston from Illinois Avenue.
There was heavy smoke coming out of all sides of the building when firefighters arrived, Oak Ridge Fire Chief Darryl Kerley said.
An Eagles member said the building had an alarm system, but there is no record of the alarm company calling 911 to report the fire, the Oak Ridge Fire Department said in a press release. Instead, a passing motorist saw the heavy smoke coming from the building and called 911 to report the fire.
“The fire had spread throughout the upper levels of the structure, damaging the steel support beams, and the remainder of the business suffered moderate heat, smoke, and water damage,” the press release said.
At the fire early Saturday, Kerley said firefighters entered the building from doors on the front and rear of the building, and they found a fire that appeared to have started in the kitchen area in the rear of the building and extinguished it.
Saturday evening, Kerley said the fire appeared to be the result of oily rags that had been used to clean up a grease spill and had been stored in the kitchen.
“The cause of the fire appears to have been spontaneous combustion from oily rags stored after being laundered,” the press release said. “Washing and drying oil-soaked rags will not prevent spontaneous combustion. Many times the towels will catch fire while in the dryer.”
It’s the second spontaneous combustion fire reported by the Oak Ridge Fire Department in about three weeks. Both were attributed to the improper storage of oily towels.
The Eagles building, reportedly built in the early 1970s, did not have a sprinkler system, Kerley said. Steel beams in the ceiling were deformed from the heat, he said.
No one was inside the building at the time of the fire, and the Oak Ridge Police Department, which was the first to arrive on the scene early Saturday, reported no cars were in the parking lot at the time of the fire. Also, the doors were secured, Kerley said.
No injuries were reported.
Kerley said heat was the biggest problem for firefighters, and the ORFD rotated crews and kept them hydrated. It took significant heat and pressure to force smoke out of the metal sides of the windowless building, and it was very hot inside, with lots of pressure built up, Kerley said.
Four fire engines and the tower truck responded to the fire along with two rescue trucks, a battalion chief, and 20 firefighters. It took them about 30 minutes to get the fire under control and start removing smoke using fans, Kerley said.
A Y-12 Fire Department fire truck came into the city to be available on a standby basis during the fire.
The Oak Ridge Turnpike was closed for about two hours near the Eagles building on Saturday. The four-lane roadway re-opened at about 4 a.m. Saturday.
The other recent fire attributed to spontaneous combustion from oily rags, which were discarded in a waste container, was on July 21 in a warehouse at 342 Warehouse Road.
That building had a sprinkler system and damage was minimal, and it re-opened in about five or six days, Kerley said.
“The Eagles Lodge will not be so fortunate,” the press release said. “The damage is extensive, and the structure may have to be rebuilt.”
After the Warehouse Road fire, the Oak Ridge Fire Department said sprinkler systems save lives and property, and they offered recommendations on storing oily rags.
The Fire Department repeated those safety recommendations on Saturday. Here is what they said.
- Sprinkler systems save lives and property. Many complain about the cost of maintaining a commercial sprinkler system, but the cost is fractional when compared to the loss of a structure, business, and local jobs. The Warehouse Road fire in July was another example of the sprinkler system controlling the flames and notifying the Fire Department for additional response.
- This is the fourth fire in the past four years in Oak Ridge that was started by spontaneous combustion. Discarding oily rags from refinishing furniture, cleaning wood products, working in kitchens, or any other work that involves certain types of organic oil products such as furniture finishing products and cooking oils can begin to create internal heat to the point where the rags ignite. The rags should be kept in a covered metal container or laid out flat so the residue can evaporate prior to being discarded.
The Fire Department said residents and businesses can contact the Fire Marshal’s Office for help in properly storing and disposing of oil-soaked rags.
At the fire at the Eagles building on Saturday, Kerley said sprinkler systems are required in new buildings over 10,000 square feet and for certain types of occupancy.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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