Despite alarm and sprinklers, fire shuts down Fla. Costco warehouse

Dec. 18--When employees of a Costco in North Miami Beach got to work Thursday morning, they found their large warehouse closed, according to Miami-Dade Fire Rescue officials.

Firefighters at the scene had some bad news for them: A massive fire had broken out shortly after midnight, and the store would remain closed for some time.

The damage, which may total in the millions of dollars, is not yet estimated.

According to Fire Rescue spokesman Lt. Eddy Ballester, firefighters arrived at the unoccupied Costco, located at 14585 Biscayne Blvd., shortly after they were notified that a fire alarm had gone off.

When they arrived, they heard the ringing alarm coming from the huge building, which Ballester estimated at over 100,000 square feet. Smoke billowed out the wide roll-up doors at the front of the warehouse. The firefighters knew they would have to trudge through dense smoke that had already filled the large building.

But they'd have to break in first.

"It was at that time we knew we were in for a challenging fire fight," Ballester said.

They radioed in requesting more paramedics and firefighters, and within minutes, 75 of them were at the scene. Armed with power saws, they ripped their way into the building and barged inside.

But the high storage racks they found inside caused them reason to pause, Ballester said.

"We were rapidly reminded of the last fireman who was killed," Ballester noted.

He referred to the death of firefighter Dewey Henry, who was killed in a 1994 Dolphin Carpet Warehouse Inc. fire when a roof suddenly collapsed and heavy rolls of carpeting pinned him down.

The firemen carefully made their way through the dark building, searching for the base of the fire while overhead sprinklers dropped a light rainfall from above.

They found the seat of the fire 100 feet into the building atop one of the high storage racks that contained diapers and other baby care products.

It took 90 minutes for them to get the fire under control -- and several hours more to put out the small spot fires that remained. During that time, they also used large, specialized fans to pull out the dark smoke that was still inside the building.

The building will remain closed. Ballester said North Miami Beach's building department will not allow anyone to reenter the structure without an electrical and structural assesment being done.

Ballester said it was sad for the firefighters to watch the Costco employees arrive in the morning only to find out they no longer had a place to work.

"It's the time of year when they're buying things for their families so it was especially sad for many," he said. "There are a lot of employees out of work right now."

Inspectors don't yet have a cause for the fire, but they are actively investigating, Ballester said.