March 13, 2010

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.


Huston Meadows said...

My next door neighbor and I were looking toward the fire from a distance of two miles from our neighboring decks at about 1:45. I speculated that the fire might be close to the inntersection of N. Main and Treat. He commented that he did not want to seem cynical but he suspected the fire might be at Piedmont Lumber. He said they had been in financial difficulty and that when he went to the store at 10am they were closed.

Mike said...

I have a few shots and some video from early on at

Tim said...

Yes, very interesting scenario. The Pittsburg Piedmont burnt down on a quiet Saturday in August, and now the one in Walnut Creek. Very convenient for them. Both times nobody was hurt except the insurance company. An arson investigation is definitely gonna be underway.

Anonymous said...

I have also heard they are having a hard time financially. I really hope both fires weren't intentionally set. Interesting.

Anonymous said...

The Pittsburg yard did not burn down it was a storage shed in the back.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe the mean spirited comments and innuendo here. It doesn't matter whether Piedmont Lumber had financial problems or not they have been a long standing business in the community. We used them as the lumber yard for our major remodel and I liked them very much. I still use them as a great hardware store and many of their employees probably have to worry about their jobs now.

Huston Meadows said...

Anon 7:09,

I did not mean to suggest that there was arson. Spontaneous combustion of rags with embedded solvents was one of the other causes I thought of, for example. My neighbor did apologize for being cynical with his speculation.

There are any number of causes for an incident such as this and we just need to let the investigators do their work. I'm sorry if I upset you and possibly the owners. I have been a customer of theirs for many years.

Anonymous said...

Very suspicious - Piedmont has been having financial issues since the downturn and heard they were very close to closing walnut creek location. Let's see...two fires in 6 months, 500k loss in the first "shed" fire and probably 2 mil loss today. They closed their Tracy yard last year. Insurance claims are a great way to pay off your creditors....

Anonymous said...

I heard they were closing the Walnut Creek location. I know a former fire chief. He knew which businesses were likely to end up making an insurance claim due to a fire.

Anonymous said...

Sad to see them go. As a professional remodeler who was at Piedmont almost daily, I can say they were a real full-service organization. They made Home Depot look clueless in comparison (but then, that's not hard to do). They will be missed. I'll probably frame the $2500+ receipt I have from their last day in business.

Barb Duvall said...

We own Joe's Foreign Automotive, on North Main, right next door to Piedmont Lumber and it's less than 25 feet. We drove back from the coast this afternoon after hearing about the fire, terrified and expecting the worst from a blaze that intense. But thanks to the stunning efforts of the fire fighters who kept the fire contained and away from our building, our business remained intact. Thank you to all who fought that blaze and kept it from spreading!

Anonymous said...

not one comment of "so sad for the workers who are out of work, for the family that lost a 80+ year business, for the patrons who frequent this shop..."
no, the first word out of everyones mouth is - insurance fraud, deliberately set, hard times...what the hell is wrong with you people.
Can't you show a little compassion to people who now have to look for work.
Let the firemen investigate and do their work.
otherwise, stop your assanine CSI investigation - you people should be so ashamed

Tim said...

Piedmont was about to close down and has laid off half its work force, so, yes, everybody feels bad about all the people that lost their jobs.

But the fact remains that this little camp fire, came at a very opportune time, and even more opportune that it was on a Saturday, and even more opportune that it was shortly before they were about to close their doors.

All I am saying is, its very convenient, and makes a lot of sense. Let the investigators do their thing, and see what happens. The owner (who lives 1/4 mile away) better have an good alibi (something like "I was having drinks with the police chief").

Anonymous said...

I am so impressed with all the fire fighters. Not just this fire, but all fires and other emergencies. We are very fortunate to have all of you.

Thank you.

And thank you to your families, as well.

I am very sorry for your loss to all those involved in this fire.



AKA Soccer Mom said...

I think the fire investigators will be able to determine fairly quickly whether the fire is accidental or suspicious. So, we'll have to see, and until we hear otherwise, we'll have assume it was accidental. It's too bad either way. It sounds like customers really loved this business, and Piedmont Lumber served the community for a long time.

Anonymous said...

Look, the employees were about to lose their job anyway do to shutdown. If they can't prove arson, the owners will get paid a lot for their losses - and guess who gets stuck for increased insurance and I. If the store were to close, what could the owners do we the existing footprint of the building and yard...nothing! Not too many people nowadays are jumping into the lumber business. Now that the structure is gone, they'll receive a fat insurance settlement and will erect a modern day building that can generate cash flow...if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, well you know the rest....

David said...

It will be good to see in the future which way this turns when it comes to the investigation, accident or arson?

Anonymous said...

When did the US turn into a nation of jerks like 9:34AM?

Anonymous said...

This should add more "fuel" to the fire...quit feeling so sorry for the owners...

Northwest Administrators, Inc. v. Piedmont Lumber & Mill Company, Inc.
Plaintiff: Northwest Administrators, Inc.
Defendant: Piedmont Lumber & Mill Company, Inc.

Case Number: 3:2010cv00852
Filed: March 1, 2010

Court: California Northern District Court
Office: San Francisco Office [ Court Info ]
County: San Mateo
Presiding Judge: Hon. Thelton E. Henderson

Nature of Suit: Labor - Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
Cause: 29:1132 E.R.I.S.A.: Employee Benefits
Jurisdiction: Federal Question
Jury Demanded By: None

Anonymous said...

Did it occur to you heartless "fire sale" posters that yes, both fires may be arson and that someone OTHER than Piedmont Lumber may be to blame? As in some miscreant who is trying to drive them out of business? Think about that.

I had nothing to but good experiences in my years of dealing with Piedmont Lumber and that this has happened and people are posting such vitriol sickens me in ways words fail to express.

Anonymous said...

Why was a lumber yard and hardware store closed on a Saturday? The big retail day of the week. Dig deeper Crazy, did they have an offer on the property?

Traci said...

I am a Piedmont employee & yes we are having difficulties. No owner or employee of this family owned business would put the citizens of their community in danger!! This is a difficult time for everyone involved so let the ATF figure it out and quit implying evil. My heart goes out the the Myer family and I hope they can rebuild a new lumberyard to serve the community they love so much!

Anonymous said...

this right here is a major bankruptcy proceeding.

Yes, please feel for those employees that will lose their jobs, all of them. No, they aren't being completely forthright with their employees about what is in store for them. There is no "heads up". So, if you want to feel for the corp, that is for you to decide. I have no doubt that they do love the community, and my heart does go out, trust me on this, to all who are negatively effected by this.

I am very grateful, no one got hurt by the fire.

Anonymous said...

The owner does not live a 1/4 of a mile away from the Walnut Creek Store. Where do people come up with such nonsense.. There is an interesting article on the San Jose Mercury News website: