Massive Savannah, Ga., blaze is contained but still burning



While Ocean Terminal’s warehouse No. 3 could smolder for a while, officials expected the worst of the smoke to have dissipated by this morning.

If it’s still smoky, however, residents are advised to limit their outside activities.

“Stay indoors if the wind is blowing it over your home,” said Clayton Scott, director of the Chatham Emergency Management Agency. “Turn your HVAC system off so it’s not sucking through the HVAC system. Otherwise, it’s business as usual.”

Airborne particulates and debris spewed when palletized rubber stored in the warehouse caught fire may still be found around town. If residents discover such ash on personal property, emergency officials advise cautiously getting rid of it.

“If you have any smoke debris or ash on your car, wash your car,” Scott said.

The Savannah River, as it did Saturday, should remain open to ships today.


The fire

Shortly after 11 a.m. Saturday, fire broke out in the 226,000-square-foot warehouse. It wasn’t long before roughly 5,600 tons of rubber burst into flame, sending a plume of black smoke high into the sky just west of the Talmadge Bridge.

When firefighters arrived, the fire was burning strong.

“We immediately sent out a second alarm to get additional personnel and resources here as fast as we could so we could attack it as best we could,” said Mark Keller, Savannah Fire & Emergency Services spokesman. “Our attack on it has been defensive.”

Georgia Ports Authority Chief Operating Officer Griff Lynch said no injuries were reported.

“There were no people in the building, and no people were injured,” Lynch said.

Savannah Fire called in its industrial firefighting equipment, which includes submersible hoses, to pump water directly from the Savannah River. Garden City Fire Rescue responded as well with similar equipment.

Fire officials announced a few hours later the blaze was under control. It was contained to the southern half of the warehouse.

Firefighters were able to continually maintain constant water supply on the structure from three sides, Keller said.

Firefighters also began pumping foam on the blaze. Shortly before 5 p.m., Air National Guard fire trucks arrived to supply more foam, while the Coast Guard placed absorbent booms on the river designed to contain the runoff.

“The foam did its job,” Keller said late Saturday night.

At least three engines and a ladder truck remained on scene throughout the night to maintain water supplies and hit hot spots.

The warehouse had a fire suppression system and was bisected by a firewall that helped keep the heaviest damage contained to the north end of the building. However, Lynch said, the ports will likely take the entire building down.

The fire’s cause has not yet been determined.

“Our investigators will be out as soon as they can,” Keller said. “It will probably be (today) before they can have any hope of getting into the area where the fire is, and they’ll do their best to see if we can pin down an origination point and a cause.”


Savannah’s port didn’t stop on Saturday. The Savannah River remains open to ship traffic.

Smoke blew away from the river, so pilots had no trouble navigating, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Joe Loring.

“There’s been no impact on shipping on the Savannah River,” he said.

Lynch said port workers will notify customers of the damage and assess the safety of the burned area.