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10 Years Since the Harvey Norman Super Store Fire

It was 10 years ago that a fire broke out in Harvey Norman in the Museum’s neighbouring suburb of Jamisontown.

The Fire and Rescue NSW Sydney Communication Centre received an Automatic Fire Alarm to the Harvey Norman retail centre, Jamisontown, at 3:41p.m. on Friday 24th February, 2012. The centre contained warehouses, offices, retail areas and showrooms, and stood at about 16,300m2 in size.

Initially, Pumper 102 Regentville and Aerial Pumper 86 Penrith were assigned to the call, but as more emergency calls came through, the response was upgraded to a 2nd Alarm. Officer-in-Charge Pumper 102 Station Officer Phillip Marsh reported large volumes of smoke upon leaving Regentville Station. Upon arriving at the scene, Station Officer Marsh was met with large plumes of black smoke and heavy fire activity coming from the loading dock and warehouse area. Upon seeing the unfavourable fire conditions, SO Marsh upgraded the response to a 4th Alarm. After further investigation of the risk of the fire spreading, SO Marsh requested a 12th alarm.

As fire broke through the roof, the Aerial Pumper 86 was brought in to quash the intensity of the fire within the warehouse. Recognising the risk that the ring-main water supply could be overrun, SO Marsh directed the third arriving pumper to go to the booster connection on Mulgoa Road in order to pump water into the ring-main.

Fire services and aerial appliances work to contain the fire at Harvey Norman, Jamisontown [Daily Telegraph]

Duty Commander MW1 Inspector Mick Morris arrived at the fireground and took control of the incident from SO Marsh. Aware the building had a number of compartments separated by fire walls and fire doors, Inspector Morris’ priority was to investigate the building interior to establish effective fire cut-off points in order to stop the fire spreading internally.

At this point in time, heavy flames had already broken through the roof at the western end of the building and a large cloud of thick black smoke had risen, which was visible for tens of kilometres from the fire. The loading dock and the warehouse were badly affected, with polyurethane foam rubber mattresses adding fuel to the fire.

Breathing apparatus (SCBA) crews entered the site to investigate the extent of the fire travel within the building. They discovered that several outer internal sliding steel fire doors had automatically operated and closed, securing the showrooms at the northern end of the building. Beyond these, firefighters found that three internal sliding steel fire doors had not closed, allowing heavy fire conditions to impact three non-fire-rated timber doors, which were separating the warehouse from three large showrooms. These timber doors were being directly impacted by the intense and fierce fire activity from the burning warehouse and were in danger of imminent failure. If these failed, it would have allowed the fire to spread into the retail departments and the remainder of the super centre. So, protecting these doors became priority for the firefighters.

Crews from Pumpers 32 (Mt Druitt), 98 (Cranebrook), 63 (Blacktown) and 489 (Warragamba) deployed 70mm attack lines to the internal door openings and began aggressively attacking the fire to prevent it spreading from the fully involved warehouses to the unimpacted retail showrooms. The timber doors at all three locations were alight. The doors separating the electrical and computer department had been completely consumed by fire and it was now beginning to spread into this section. Firefighters described the conditions beyond the separation doors as being furnace-like.

Firefighters assessing damage to affected tilt slab walls [Fire News]

As the fire conditions remained intense, crews utilised thermal imaging cameras to identify any weakening of separation walls or fire penetration. Interior hose lays to all three cut-off points were lengthy, with the longest being 80m long. SCBA crews worked aggressively for several hours, successfully preventing fire spread from the warehouse into the retail showrooms. While interior crews fought to stop the fire spreading, aerial master streams attempted to control fire intensity within the fully involved warehouse. In addition to Aerial Pumper 86, Aerial Pumper 97 (Huntingwood) was deployed in Sector A and directed an aerial stream onto the fire. Ladder Platform 27 (Parramatta) was positioned in Sector A and the aerial crew provided critical information to Sector A Commander concerning the condition and integrity of the roof and wall structures in the vicinity of where internal crews were operating. Firefighters in Sector D directed 70mm hose streams into the involved loading dock and warehouse.

Safety Officers were appointed in all active sectors, including internal operations sectors where interior attack was being undertaken. Main BA Control was established in Sector A and Rescue Pumper 78 Dunheved (now Ropes Crossing) was designated as the Rapid Intervention Team. The rehabilitation pod was deployed to the incident as well as ambulance crews who attended and remained on standby for firefighter welfare. Several hours into the fire, the first of a number of concrete tilt slab walls collapsed within the established collapse zones, with Hazmat crews monitoring the smoke plume and water runoff.

It was at this point that having the water supply increased by the second pumper placed at the booster made a great difference. The use of two pumping appliances caused significant improvement of water supply into the ring-main, enabling firefighters to press home the attack.

The fire attracted enormous media attention, with a number of networks deploying satellite trucks for live crosses during peak national news broadcasts. Operational Media Coordinator Superintendent Ian Krimmer worked in close conjunction with Assistant Director Media, Ministerial and Communication Mr Andrew Parsons to provide regular media updates and briefings. A large media conference was conducted with Commissioner Mullins.

By 6:30p.m., fire activity had diminished significantly and the threat of further fire spread had been contained. Although an area of 4,600m² had been destroyed by fire, 11,700m² of showroom, retail departments and offices and all contents had been saved. The combination of low metal sheet roof, high combustible fire load and large open plan area of the trading floors could have resulted in rapid and extreme fire activity and the total loss of the entire complex, had firefighters not been successful in holding the fire at the cut-off points.

View from the Great Western Highway of the smoke coming from the Harvey Norman, Jamisontown, fire

As a result of the activity, the eastbound ramps from Mulgoa Road to the M4 Motorway, and one of the northbound lanes on Wolseley Road were closed at 6:30p.m..

During media interviews the following day, business owner Mr Gerry Harvey confirmed that all staff were safe and unharmed, and stated that when he saw television news footage of the fire, he expected his Jamisontown business to be completely destroyed. Instead, he was astounded that firefighters had been able to save so much. Incredibly, the business commenced re-trading within days and new stock had been secured from sister Sydney stores. The damage to the store was in the millions, with hundreds of people having been evacuated and 120 firefighters and 30 appliances brought in to take on the blaze. Harvey stated that the fire may have started in a truck in the warehouse, but this was eventually dismissed as the cause of the fire. Unfortunately, due to the total destruction of the fire compartment involved, the cause was classified as undetermined by investigators.

- Story by Museum of Fire Engagement Team


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