Piedmont Lumber burning up on North Main in Walnut Creek, explosions heard, haz-mat team called, major traffic tie-up, animals evacuated
A four-alarm fire tore through Piedmont Lumber on North Main Street Saturday and kept firefighters busy for several hours until they brought it under control early in the evening.
Contra Costa Consolidated Fire District Interim Chief John Ross said that both the warehouse at the rear end of the property and the retail store were destroyed, but there were no injuries.
Investigators believe the fire originated somewhere between the warehouse and the store, but Ross said that the cause was unknown.
Late Saturday afternoon, a Contra Costa County's hazardous materials team was on site because hazardous materials such as paints, solvents, and petroleum materials burned in the fire.
Thick smoke from the fire messed up traffic on surface streets in the area and in both directions of Interstate 680. The photo below, from a reader, shows the smoke rising from the blaze at 4:15 p.m.
The fire also prompted evacuations and closure of businesses along North Main Street, including a dog grooming business and kennel.
Ross said the fire immediately went to three alarms after a call came in at about 1:40 p.m. of a fire in the lumber yard in the rear of the business. A tower of black smoke could be seen all the way across town at about 1:45 p.m.
(I could see it from my living room in the Parkmead neighborhood, and, ambulance chaser that I am, I jumped in the car to see what was going on.)
Sometime after 2 p.m., Ross told me and another reporter that the fire did not appear to involve any hazardous materials, just wood materials in the lumber yard. Authorities did not issue a shelter-in-place warning at that time, but Ross said later that the warning was considered as temperatures decreased later that evening since "as it cools off, smoke tends to lay down more."
But sometime around 2:15 or 2:30 p.m., as black smoke was still billowing up and out of the lumber yard, the fire moved into the main building of the lumber business, whose sign says it has been in existence since 1934. A transformer on top of a power pole in front of the business exploded into flames, likely from the heat of the fire, and prompted concerns that the power lines along North Main would become "hot."
Police moved the crowds, gathering in closed-off North Main Street back into the parking lots of businesses across the street, including Burger King and Lawrence Volvo. During this time, more explosions could be heard. Firefighters moved onto the top of the blue tile roof, and chopped holes into it, to ventilate the building and to shoot water from a hose into it.
The hazardous materials alert was called shortly after 3 p.m., though, at that time, it wasn't clear if the alert as due to concerns about the power lines or about any chemical products in the business. Besides selling lumber, Piedmont Lumber's website said it also carries a "broad inventory of building products and services for the contractor and DIY'er."
As of 3:40 p.m., the Contra Costa Times reports, flames were shooting from the roof and through the front entrance of the business' storefront, and onlookers could hear more explosions.
PG and E crews also arrived on scene. A spokesman told KTVU that PG and E de-energized the power circuit nearby, cutting off power to 306 customers,
One of the businesses evacuated was Four Paws Grooming, whose front door opens toward the back of Piedmont Lumber. Owner Sarah Weyland said a client rushed in, "screaming, panicky" saying the lumber yard was on fire.
"We opened the doors and there was a wall of flames!" Weyland said. She had about 15 dogs in the business waiting to be groomed.
She rushed as quickly as possible to get the animals out. Suddenly, other people rushed in to help her, including teens. She explained that many people who work along North Main Street bring their pets into her business for grooming, or into the adjacent North Main Pet Lodge for kennel services; those people or others who live nearby rushed in to help evacuate the animals.
She estimates that about 50 animals, dogs and cats, had been evacuated from her business and North Main Pet Lodge.
(In this above photo, dogs evacuated from the kennel and grooming business find refuge in a Contra Costa animal services truck; in the photo at right, locals move the evacuated animals into a parking lot along North Main Street, to wait for their owners to come pick them up.)
As readers have said, a fire damaged the Piedmont Lumber location in Pittsburg in late August. According to the Broakley blog, a two-alarm fire fully engulfed the lumber area.