Updated 2/13, 5:32 pm, from Bay City News:
Rags containing wood stain ignited and caused the fire at the building housing two rental businesses in Healdsburg Tuesday night, Healdsburg Fire Chief Steven Adams said this afternoon.
The rags were left out in the open in a back storage area of the Encore Events party rental company that shared the building at 1430 Grove St. with Aaction Rents, which rents tractors, bulldozers, trucks and other heavy equipment. Pallets and wood tables and chairs caught fire after the rags ignited, Adams said.
The used rags should have been stored in a metal can with a lid or in water to prevent oxygen from drying them out until they combusted, Adams said.
"There isn't a significant (fire) warning label on the cans that contain linseed-based oil," Adams said.
Firefighters in Healdsburg responded to a call Tuesday evening shortly after 8 p.m. that Aaction Rents, an equipment rental company, and the party planning company Encore Events next door. They found the fire was fully involved and spreading at the warehouse they share on Grove St., north of Dry Creek Ave.
Firefighters responded in about five minutes and almost immediately called a second alarm to combat the spreading flames.
"They jumped right on it," said Colin Grill, manager of the family-run Aaction Rents. "It was like a scene out of 'Backdraft'," he said, adding appreciation to the Healdsburg Fire Department for their rapid and thorough response.
"They took out all our computers, files, everything they could."
The Tuesday night fire took place on Mardi Gras evening. The fire was reported by Eric Compton of Healdsburg Hot Rods, which has offices across Grove St.
"I was just shutting down when I looked up and saw it," said Compton. "The front glass windows looked like a fireplace." Once the window broke, he said, the entire building quickly became engulfed. "It was coming out both ends of the building."
The two-alarm blaze that caused at least $500,000 in damage, according to first estimates.
"The amount of overhaul that was taken out was incredible," said Healdsburg Fire Marshall Linda Collister. "We actually used some of Aaction rents equipment to pull stuff out," she added. "When you have volunteer fire fighters, you have a lot of outside skills - we used forklifts, cherry picker, backhoes.
"I think if it weren't for that we'd still be there."
The two businesses share an attic space, and the fire is believed to have started in the Encore Events business, which rents tables, chairs, linens, tents, china and other party supplies, Collister said.
The blaze took several hours to contain because of the large amount of combustible materials, high-piled storage and multiple additions that had been made to the building, Fire Chief Steve Adams said.
Hazardous materials were almost certainly involved, as the two businesses count plastics, paints, cleaning materials and other chemicals in their inventory.
"It could have been a lot worse," said Compton, "but the fire department responded so fast they beat the fire alarm by about seven minutes."
This morning, yellow control tape surrounded the scene. White fire retardant foam lay on the ground like snow. Steam, and possibly some smoke, still smoldered from the material pulled from the burning buildings - curtains, tablecloths, stacks of tables and chairs. Half a dozen gas barbecue grill, cool and damp, were arrayed outside., surrounded by charred inventory.
An appraiser for a clean-up and restoration company, Servpro, was on hand to estimate costs. A full forensic examination of causes and the fire's progress was to begin around 10 a.m. on Wednesday, involving the Sonoma County Fire Investigation Task Force and some members of the responding fire departments.
According to Josh Wikoff of Servpro's disaster recovery team, Chief Adams says damage to the building and contents will exceed $500,000 dollars. The cause is still under investigation with the Sonoma County Fire Investigation Task Force returning tomorrow, Thursday.
Multiple agencies responded to the fire, with Healdsburg fire leading the effort. Fire departments from Windsor, Geyserville, Santa Rosa, Cloverdale, and Rincon also responded. Forestville firefighters provided station coverage.
"The important thing is that no one was hurt," said Grill. No injuries were reported and the cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Aaction Rent customers were being referred to the Windsor office for equipment returns and other business. "We're looking for a temporary location to keep things going," said Grill.
Bay City News contributed to this report.