Early Sunday morning, 5 December and just after 1 AM, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office responded to a typical alarm notification when they soon realized that they were actually responding to and witnessing a fire in the 6300 block of Yukon Road. As fire/rescue units were summoned to the scene, heavy smoke could be seen pouring out of the single story, warehouse style business establishment known as 'Patriot Mania,' a store selling military memorabilia as well as guns and ammunition. The firefighters were promptly met by several obstacles, the first being an initial line that came across the adjacent railroad tracks and had to be disconnected as a train approached. With subsequent rail traffic halted and supply lines reestablished, firefighters were now tasked with extinguishing the blaze, a fire rapidly consuming the interior and contents of the business and facilitating the discharge of live rounds on a regular basis. While forcing entry at the front of the building, firefighters also pulled a 2 and 1/2 inch with a straight tip and soon had blanketed the entire interior and determined that the fire was under control after about 30 minutes. Damage estimates were considered to be several hundred thousand dollars, the vagueness attributed to the unknown value of the entire inventory: an inventory that was a complete loss due to fire, smoke and/or water damage.
The report of a structure fire in the 200 block of West 17th Street late Monday evening, December 6, had all dispatched JFRD units riddled with anxiety as additional information included the (great) likelihood that an elderly woman was still inside of the house. Upon arrival, Ladders 18 and 32 and Engine 2 could see heavy smoke pouring out of the single story, single family structure, with flames beginning to advance skyward into the freezing night. The primary search was, naturally, immediately initiated which promptly led to the first discovery made by the firefighters: the interior of the house was packed with furniture, rolls of fabric, and an entire inventory of miscellaneous items far too numerous to mention in greater detail. In some instances the items were stacked up to five feet in height, with small paths or trails leading through the house from one room to the other. As the crews continued their search for a possible victim, without success, they were soon forced to exit to hot change bottles and return in order to perform the secondary attempt, with this renewed activity also leading to no fruition. Oddly enough, however, as one crew member from Ladder 32 was just about to re-enter the house from the back yard entrance, he noticed a figure in the background shadows of the yard. Turning to get a better look, the firefighter discovered that the individual was an elderly woman which led to the question of 'do you live here, ma'am?' The reply, in the affirmative, now led to the realization that the woman had managed to get out of the house on her own and had all along been watching the activity from her vantage point in the shadowy recess of her back yard. Evaluated as stable and transported to an area hospital for precautionary reasons, the elderly woman managed to explain the circumstances leading up to the fire before her trip to the hospital: her curtains in the front living room caught on fire right before her eyes due to her space heater being too close to the combustible fabric. She alertly fled the scene to the safety of her back yard where she awaited the arrival of 'firemen to put out my house fire.'
Monday morning, December 13th, units responded to the report of a single family residential structure fire at 2234 Parkin Road in the Oceanway section of the city. As firefighters approached the area on this windy, record setting low and frigid morning, the plume of smoke could already be seen rising into the clear blue sky from a considerable distance away. Upon arrival, flames and black clouds of smoke were swirling about the residence and, compounding matters further, the closest hydrant was nearly half-a-mile away. Nonetheless, assisted by the prompt arrival of the nearest tanker, the crews on scene subdued the fire and prevented any of the nearby exposures from becoming involved as well, a difficult proposition considering the strong winds that continuously threatened to spread the fire in many different directions. Although the house was a total loss, no injuries were reported as the married couple occupying the home had managed to escape before the first unit arrived on scene. The homeowners soon described what had led up to the blaze, specifically the involvement of a cast iron wood burning stove. After lighting the aforementioned heat source, the adult male soon observed ceiling tiles falling down all around him, exposing a fire that was in the attic and leading to the couple's prompt exit from the home.
Is this month in 2010 turning into another 'December To Remember?' Just like the city's memorable 2007 December timeframe that included the Berkman Parking Garage collapse, the T2 lab explosion and 2nd Alarm Hendricks Baptist Church fire, the 2010 version of this normally most joyous of months is rapidly filling up with event after event. Following the intense and record setting cold spells that resulted in a higher than usual response to residential fires, the Department faced a true novelty: a 2nd Alarm Wildland fire in the month of December, a first for Duval County. The first report arrived just after 4 PM on Thursday, December 16, indicating that a significant wildland/brush fire extended all along Normandy Boulevard: more specifically, from the eastern border of Yellow Water and a most western cutoff at approximately Maxville or closer to 301, with the fire headed north of Normandy toward I-10. This over 2 mile long perimeter filled with multiple fire heads, at least twenty, began pushing north at nearly 9 mph via gusty wind conditions that refused to abate. Naturally Command requested the assistance of DOF, initially to the tune of 3 tractors, along with the usual cast of characters: brush trucks, tankers, and so on. Upon arriving on scene and having a first visual assessment of the situation, a Second Alarm was issued, the Equestrian Center establsihed as the staging area, and JSO asked to block off Normandy from Yellow Water westward to Maxville. Additionally, a request was made for the JSO's aerial unit so that a proper reconnoiter activity could be performed to gauge the true magnitude of the event. As information became available as to the exact location of the more volatile fire heads, Command created broad sectoring to work in conjunction with DOF (who by now had additional resources on scene, such as a total of 14 tractors and numerous support personnel) and began to respond to each and every report of residential structures threatened by encroaching flames. Countless homes were saved from the impinging fires, at times stopped right in the front yard of the endangered structure. A few precautionary evacuations were performed, but as the evening wore on not one single significant loss of any building was reported, with the minor exception of less than a handful of run-down and/or dilapidated sheds, barns or similar structures, all non-residential in nature. As the fire gradually became more manageable, Command began to dissolve certain sectors established throughout the operational period and full JFRD response was terminated at approximately 11 PM. Naturally, the fire continued to flare up for several days, with DOF the primary response to these instances.The cause was initially thought to be suspicious enough, what with the multiple sets and near deliberate spacing observed, to make an official proclamation of arson; however, eyewitness reports began to emerge indicating that a tractor-trailer rig had been observed traveling westward on Normandy and emitting sparks along the way. The incredible drought conditions, with an index well above 700 in that part of town, coupled with the high winds and plenty of fuel in the form of dead brush, could have easily facilitated a fire from that presumed cause. Nonetheless, when all was said in done, over 2,200 acres of wildland had succumbed to the blaze...by far the most sizeable woods fire in recent memory for the citizens and emergency responders of Duval County.
Not wanting to appear too prescient, but December 2010 is, indeed, becoming quite a busy month and answering the question as to whether or not this may be another 'December to Remember' in the affirmative. Case in point: on Thursday afternoon, 23 December, units responded to a structure fire at 4969 Rochdale, just off Soutel. A 13 year old girl had alerted everyone inside the single story residence that the 'house was on fire.' Although everyone managed to safely escape the blaze, the end result of 8 children and 3 adults being displaced from their home was made even more tragic by the timing of the incident: a day before Christmas Eve. Then on Monday, 27 December, units were dispatched to a structure fire near the St. John's County line, specifically the Bartram Springs subdivision, where a man had been sleeping on the ground floor of his two story home when he awoke to the sound of a smoke detector blaring out loudly. The adult male realized that the second floor was filled with smoke wafting out of the air vents and so he immediately vacated the residence while awaiting the arrival of fire and rescue units. The notoriously long distance from the closest fire station to that particular subdivision ultimately meant that by the time the first unit arrived on scene, more than ten minutes following dispatch, flames were now shooting through the roof of the home, with the fire additionally threatening adjacent exposures merely ten feet away from the blaze. Although the house was a total loss, with damage estimates in excess of $200,000, the good news was that no injuries were reported from the scene and all nearby homes escaped unscathed. The following day, Tuesday December 28, firefighters arrived on scene just after 4 AM at a structure fire to a single family, single story residence in the 3700 block of Gurley Road in Arlington. With flames breaching through the roof and fire rapidly spreading throughout the attic, crews had to act quickly to get the blaze under control before significant damage could be done to the home. On this record setting cold morning, just above 20 degrees, the fire was called under control in under ten minutes with everyone's attention now turning toward the, somewhat, astonishing details associated with this event. Apparently during the previous evening hours, the married couple and their three children were enjoying a warming fire from their fireplace when suddenly sparks flew out, igniting a nearby couch. Acting quickly, that small fire was extinguished by the husband, however the remaining stench and unpleasant smoldering of that piece of furniture prompted the removal of the aforementioned: outside onto the rear wooden patio deck. As the night progressed, the fire rekindled, began to consume the deck and creep up the exterior wall, eventually burning through the soffit and entering into the attic. Although smoke detectors were operational and sounding off, it took the alert actions of neighbors to awake the family who were still sound asleep, even with the noise being emitted by the alarms. With everyone outside and safe, the only action performed by rescue on scene was to transport the adult male to Shands with only minor injuries sustained during the ordeal. Damage estimates were in the neighborhood of $25,000.
That same day, 28 December but now just before 8 PM, crews were once again dispatched to the report of a structure fire, this time on the city's westside and this time not a residence, but rather a business: 'Bold City Hardware.' Located at 8610 Normandy Boulevard, the firefighters arriving on scene were immediately confronted by a raging inferno consuming the warehouse side of the business. Command promptly issued a Second Alarm, leading to over seventy firefighters and support personnel gathering on scene. Both ladder pipes from 31 and 32 were soon reaching skyward, with only 32 used to bombard the stubborn tin roof covering the flames underneath it while multiple 2 and 1/2 inch lines were set up in front and to the rear of the fire. With the aerial preventing the fire from spreading, the ground level lines were eventually succecssful in extinguishing the fire through a more targeted and deliberate approach. With propane tanks exploding periodically and the huge tin roof collapsing onto the ground, along with a multitude of other routine hazards commonly encountered on every active fire ground, it came as a natural relief to all involved that no injuries were reported when Command called the fire under control after well over an hour of intense activity. No cause or point of origin were immediately available in the aftermath, but State investigators were summoned to the scene in an attempt to make the appropriate determination.