Legal action against yard’s owners could be coming following pallet fire

Fire officials will continue to investigate what caused a massive fire at a pallet yard Wednesday night, as well as look into the possibility of taking further legal action against the yard’s owners, Springfield Asst. Fire Chief Matthew Smith said.

“We’re going back out to the scene to investigate, trying to find a heat source that would have started the fire,” Smith said. “The second thing we are looking at is code enforcement, what is going on with the pallet yard and do we need to look at how they were storing pallets, how they were laid out and how we can set them up so hopefully we don’t have another large fire like this again.”

It’s estimated that tens of thousands of pallets covering nearly 3 acres burned at the pallet yard off Warder Street.

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The massive fire forced firefighters to take a defensive approach in attacking the blaze, using methods such as shooting elevated streams of water to extinguish the flames, Smith said. The disorganization of the pallet yard caused firefighters to have to be more cautious, Smith said.

“They are not supposed to have them stacked so high, they are supposed to be stacked in a neat manner, not laid around like a big pile but stacked. There is supposed to be a clear point of access so we can get fire apparatus or hose lines back there.”

He said the incident commander on scene Wednesday night decided to pull firefighters away from the center of fire because of the pallets.

“If everything is piled too high it becomes a canyon,” he said. “(The incident commander) felt it was too narrow of passage for his guys to go in there.”

The fire continued to burn into Thursday morning, due partly to firefighters difficulty in accessing the burning woods.

Fire officials said the property had been on their radar for previous code enforcement violations because there should be 20-foot wide paths between the stacks of pallets so fire equipment can enter.

Codes are enforced at pallet yards throughout Springfield, Chief Smith said; he said various owners throughout the area have ongoing citations due to code violations.

Owners can be cited for violations that include improperly storing, stacking, and laying out the pallets. Fines for these citations range from $200 to $1,000 per day until the issue is fixed.

Two pallet yard owners store pallets on the property, one of them being Tri State Pallet, Inc. Officials did not name the second owner.

A caller to this newsroom who identified himself as Tri State Pallet, Inc. president said the pallets that burned didn’t belong to his company.

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Whichever company is responsible for the pallets, fire officials will look at issuing new citations, in addition to the ongoing citations that the property already has in place.

This isn’t the first time Springfield fire officials have had to battle a pallet fire blaze.

A fire at the warehouse on Monroe Street in 2015 — believed to be the largest fire in Springfield since 1999 — required 42 personnel and 11 fire engines at the scene, plus Box 27 Associates, mutual aid vehicles and personnel, and a heavy police presence to close the overpass and other streets.

Firefighters in that case fought flames that reached more than 20 feet above the treeline and were fueled by thousands of wooden pallets stored inside. It took millions of gallons of water and several days to extinguish.

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