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Electrical Fire at Sears, Willowbrook Mall, Tuesday Night

Carolyne Volpe Curley

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 • 1:01am


Updated at 6:10 p.m. Friday

WAYNE, NJ - Tuesday evening, fire crews worked to control an electrical fire inside of Sears at the Willowbrook Mall.  Willowbrook General Manager Gilbert Bankston commented to West Essex TAP that, although Sears remains closed, all of the other mall stores opened on schedule Wednesday morning. No one was inside of the store at the time of the fire and there were no reports of any injuries.

The Wayne Fire Department was alerted at 10:41 p.m. when an automatic alarm was set off by a fire in the electrical room on the second floor. Wayne Fire Commissioner Steven Toth stated that the first to arrive was a Wayne Police officer who reported "he had smoke coming from the store."


Credit: Carolyne Volpe Curley

Wayne Fire Company # 1 and Company #2 arrived with at least 10 fire engines while the Wayne First Aid Squad stood ready in case of any injuries. Emergency units were also there to provide extra lighting. Toth stated that the first fire truck "confirmed a heavy smoke condition coming from both the glass door entrance way as well as smoke coming from the roof."


Credit: Carolyne Volpe Curley 

Toth explained that when the fire crews first entered the store they found a "heavy smoke condition on the entire first floor." However, although the crews searched the first floor, they could not locate any fire.

According to the fire commissioner, crews then conducted a search of the entire second floor where they were met with "thick black smoke." One firefighter, while searching "on hands and knees in a blinding condition," came upon a "hot door," added Toth. After the crew forced the door open, they then located the source of all the smoke: a working fire in the main electrical distribution room. 

Fairfield's Fire Department was called out to cover the Wayne firehouse at 11:06pm. Around 11:45 p.mFairfield Deputy Fire Chief Tim Connolly reported to TAP that the electrical fire was “getting bad” and the crews were unable to extinguish it until the power was completely cut. Heavy smoke was “starting to push out through the roof,” he said.

Toth confirmed, "with the power still live to the building, the crews had to back out of the building and await the arrival of PSE&G to kill power to the store."


Credit: Carolyne Volpe Curley

The mall general manager Bankston stated that when he arrived on the scene before midnight smoke was coming out from the roof hatches. "These are specially designed hatches which are made to allow smoke to escape," he said. Fire engines were pulled alongside the building with their ladders leaned up against the roof. 

Toth explained that, once PSE&G was cut the power to the entire store, the fire crews were once again able to get back to the electrical room and extinguish all of the remaining fire.


Credit: Carolyne Volpe Curley

The smell of smoke grew stronger as crews were put to work on the roof above the fire. Connolly reported that the firefighters were on the roof for "ventilation and assessment."


Credit: Carolyne Volpe Curley

Inside the building, more crews labored to fight, what Bankston described as the "extreme smoldering" conditions which emanated from the electrical room throughout the store.


Credit: Carolyne Volpe Curley

The Wayne Fire Chief John Gabriel, who was in command of the operations all evening, declared the scene under control by 12:45 a.m. Wednesday. 


Credit: Carolyne Volpe Curley

At 1:10 a.m., the Wayne Fire Department contacted Fairfield Fire to provide a large gas powered fan to help ventilate the heavy smoke. Connolly soon expressed, "they are on the scene with the fan right now, trying to clear the smoke from the building."

The Fairfield Firefighters remained until 2:45 a.m. at the Wayne firehouse covering their other fire calls. According to Toth, his fire crews remained on scene until 3 a.m., and worked on venting out all of the remaining smoke from the building. At 3:30 a.m., the general manager was then allowed inside to briefly access the damage.

Bankston reported that the damage to the stores adjoining Sears was minimal, if that, and, other than Sears, all stoes opened on schedule Wednesday morning. 

Regarding Sears, the fire commissioner Toth stated that all of the fire damage was contained to the electrical distribution room, but the entire store sustained severe smoke damage. He added, "So there was smoke damage throughout, and there was some soot damage mostly on the second floor. No other stores were affected and the entire electrical distribution system will need to be replaced prior to the store opening back up."

The investigation into the cause of the fire continues. The Wayne Fire Bureau, the township building department, mall management and Sears regional management all have expressed that although it's agreed the fire was electrical in nature, they are looking into determining how and why the fire started. The store will remain closed until the investigation is complete, repairs can be made and power can be restored.
 

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