Cotton fire continues to burn in Glendale; expected winds a concern

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It could be Saturday afternoon or evening before a huge fire that's consuming thousands of bales of cotton burns itself out.

The fire broke out at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday at Calcot Ltd.'s Glendale facility on 51st Avenue north of Camelback Road.

The metal storage barn housing some 6,000 bales of cotton collapsed on to the burning mess, making access difficult at best for firefighters and forcing them to make a decision.

According to the Glendale Fire Department, neither water nor foam will do any good at this point because the metal structure will prevent them from getting to the source of the flames or the embers deep inside the bales. With that in mind, firefighters decided to let the blaze burn itself out.

The storage barn did have a sprinkler system, but it wasn't enough to handle the massive flames.

Firefighters from Glendale and Phoenix tried to get a handle on the fire early on, but they had to pull back when the 500-pound cotton bales started collapsing and breaking apart.

Cotton, which is made up of cellulose fibers, is one of the most flammable of all natural and synthetic fibers. It ignites easily and burns fast.

"Cotton is a hard thing to battle," said Paul Bush of Calcot. "The bales are compressed so tight there's really no way to fight it when it flashes like that. You've got these little fibers that are floating around everywhere.

"The best thing to do, a lot of times, is to try to contain it as best you can," he continued.

The area that's burning is about the size of two football fields, 3TV's Ryan O'Donnell estimated. Smoke was visible for miles.

The winds that are expected to whip up later in the afternoon are a major concern for firefighters on the scene. In anticipation of that, they placed their ladder trucks in strategic areas to hopefully keep the flames from spreading. North of the burning cotton, there are stacks of wood pallets.

It's not what known what sparked the fire in the first place. Investigators are on the scene, but they will not be able to dig into the site and determine how the fire started until it burns itself out. They don't expect to be able to go in until late Saturday at the earliest.

Bush estimated the loss at $3 million, explaining that smoke alone would have destroyed the cotton because it would have been absorbed into the fibers and the smell is impossible to remove.

Calcot Ltd. is a cooperative that was formed in 1927 to represent California cotton growers. It expanded to include cotton growers in Arizona in 1955. Today it also represents growers in New Mexico and Texas.

According to the company website, Calcot Ltd. sells as many as 1 million bales of cotton to more than 30 countries.