By BOBBY HORN JR.
A three-alarm fire destroyed a local tire disposal shop last Thursday, that has previously been the subject of neighbors complaints and investigation by authorities. Both the Harris County Sheriffs office, abatement officer, and the states TCEQ have been involved in these investigations and complaints. The shop had been in the process of removing some inventory, and attempting to meet county and state regulations regarding tire storage.
Westfield Road Volunteer Fire Department Chief Gary Vaughan Jr. said that when they rolled up on the Mt. Houston Tire Disposal at approximately 5:30 a.m. the shop was 90% involved in flames. Mt. Houston Tire Disposal was located on Mt. Houston Street, two blocks east of Hwy. 59.
Realizing that the shop was a loss, Vaughan said their primary responsibility was containing the blaze and not allowing it to spread to a residential structure just yards from the back of the shop.
This job was complicated by a lack of fire hydrants in the area. This need required the assistance of other departments. At least two other departments, Aldine and Houston, brought tanker trucks of water to help fight the fire.
It is very important to have fellow departments with tankers to provide assistance, Vaughan said.
When not fighting fires Vaughan said that the departments often train together.
We train together so that when he have a situation like this we are on the same page.
Because of the tires in the shop, the fire also presented an environmental concern, which required the expertise of the Harris County Hazardous Materials unit.
Bob Royall, with Harris County HazMat, said that there was little exposure to toxins from the fire. Typically when petroleum-based products like tires burn they produce a heavy black smoke. Since there was little wind, he said, the smoke drifted straight up. Remote air monitors, however, were place around the site to collect data on air pollutants. Inside the structure, Royall said, they found several acetylene and propane bottles used in welding. These were compromised by the fire and were removed to ensure firefighter safety.
Royall praised Westfields effort in keeping the fire from spreading.
Westfield did a spectacular job of containing the fire, he said. Since there were limited hydrants they had to shuttle in water. Its a real credit to the training these guys go through being able to work together.
He added that several of the firefighters had attended a tanker training program at Texas A&M Universitys Fire Training Academy last weekend where they worked on this type of scenario.
Harris County Chief Arson Investigator Daniel K. Given said that as a matter of protocol an investigation would be held, although it would not be easy.
Witnesses to the early condition of the fire mentioned that multiple sources could be seen burning, rather than spreading from one location.
In a typical fire case specially trained dogs are brought in which can detect the presence of accelerants or chemicals like gasoline that might indicate arson. However, due to the nature of the business they would expect to find all kinds of accelerants in the business.
Given said that they know the fire started in the back of the building, but that as of press time they didnt have any other additional information.
By BOBBY HORN JR.