Photos: Explosive fire at Gilbert business seen for miles


by Jennifer Thomas and Mike Gertzman

Posted on June 18, 2012 at 3:29 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 19 at 1:08 PM

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GILBERT, Ariz. -- A huge fire that was burning at a business on Baseline Road between Country Club Drive and McQueen Road in Gilbert sent up a huge plume of black smoke over the Valley Monday afternoon.

It took nearly 200 firefighters from Tempe, Mesa, Gilbert, and Chandler to battle the fire, but by Monday evening it was under control.

The fire started at about 3 p.m. at Farnsworth Wholesale Company, a plumbing supply business. Initial reports estimate approximately $8 million in damages.

Several explosions were heard in the area and smoke could be seen across the Valley. The business had a lot of industrial supplies including propane tanks.

"We found that there were a lot of building supplies as this is a building and plumbing supply company," said Capt. Forrest Smith with the Mesa Fire Department. "Besides that, there appears to have been some propane tanks or whatnot."

Several witnesses said they heard explosions and actually felt the ground shake. One man described it as feeling like a small earthquake. Other people said they saw debris flying through the air.

It took six alarms to get enough crews to the scene to fight the fire. The extreme heat of 112 degrees required firefighters to take short rotations. Two firefighters were treated for heat-related illness.

In addition, one person was treated for a laceration and another person was treated for smoke inhalation.

Embers sparked palm tree fires in the nearby neighborhood. Some nearby businesses and homes were evacuated as a precaution.

The Union Pacific Railway was also affected by the fire. Several railroad ties burned, causing damage to the tracks. The line was shut down for safety precautions. Union Pacific crews were able to respond around 6 p.m. to begin repairs.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.