A LOOK BACK: 1994 Logan Valley Mall Fire

Posted: 12/4/2012

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On December 16, 1994 at 2:30am a fire ignited at Logan Valley Mall in Pennsylvania. The accidental fire ignited in a utility area and quickly spread throughout the mall, damaging 42 stores. NFPA determined the lack of fire sprinklers was a main cause for the financial devastation.

The Scene:

Built in 1963, the Logan Valley Mall was approximately 870,000 square feet with 100 stores, 4 being anchor department stores, and numerous mercantile stands. This mall continually grew until 1984. Because of the frequent renovations, most of the building material was unprotected. The roof was a composite over a metal roof decking. The metal decking was covered in insulation with a combustible adhesive. The concealed area between the roof and ceiling was approximately 3-6 feet. The concealed space above the store's ceilings and the mall's ceilings were covered by unprotected gypsum wallboard on wood studs. The utility and storage rooms did not have finished ceilings. Throughout the twenty years of renovations, ceilings were built over ceilings.

Fire sprinklers were installed in two stores out of one hundred and the food court; however, the sprinklers were designed by different companies, resulting in completely different systems for each area. The food court had wet-pipe, ordinary-hazard, pipe schedule systems and the J.C. Penney systems was a hydraulically designed wet-pipe system. No fire sprinklers were installed in the G.C. Murphy store. Areas without fire sprinklers, approximately 98 stores and utility areas, were equipped with rate-of-rise heat detectors. The detector installation was not standardized. They were different widths apart depending on the store.

The Event:

On December 16, 1994, a maintenance worker was working alone. He only had access to the common areas, forcing him to go outside to travel to different areas of the mall. While leaving the west side of the mall after finishing some work, he could hear a fire alarm activate. Since he had just worked on the west side of the mall and did not see any signs of fire, he went to the east side.

He went outside to travel to the north side of the mall and walked to the east side. As he walked east, he noticed smoke coming from G.C. Murphy. When he saw the smoke, he went to the maintenance garage to remove vehicles.

An automatic alarm activated, alerting the central station monitoring the detection and suppression systems. At 2:32am four fire companies arrived. A senior officer arrived first, and went directly to the G.C. Murphy store, seeing the heavy smoke, he returned to his car to request back up.

When fire fighters arrived, they found fire had engulfed the merchandise area and the fire fighters could hear the freight train sound of the fire within the enclosed ceiling. The fire fighters realized the 2.5 inch hose line would be insufficient. They left the store; twenty minutes later the roof collapsed.

Throughout the early morning, multiple alarms sounded, bringing 400 fire fighters and emergency personnel to the scene. By 5:00am the fire fighters controlled the fire, although, it took several days for hot spots to extinguish.

The Aftermath:

The fire damaged 42 stores and kiosks; fifteen stores were destroyed. The fire stopped at J.C. Penny, where fire sprinklers were installed and did not damage the interior of this store.

Fire fighters approximated that the fire ignited in a utility room within G.C. Murphy. They believed the fire ignited combustible materials, such as the insulation adhesive, rapidly expanding the flames. It then traveled through the concealed ceiling. The flammable gases produced by the heating of the roof-deck panels fueled the fire further.

It was determined that the fire would not have spread so rapidly, causing great damage, if working early detectors were within the area. NFPA stated, "An operating sprinkler system can alert fire fighters to a fire in a building if it is interlocked with an alarm system. The operation of an approved automatic sprinkler system can also control or extinguish a fire before fire fighters even arrive on the scene - and early extinguishment is the best means of reducing property loss." The mall did have non-combustible walls that assisted in stopping the spread of the fire.

The key to continual fire protection is regular inspections and a standard fire protection solution provider. F.E. Moran Fire Protection offers the Very Important Partners (VIP) program - providing free inspections in exchange for exclusive maintenance contracts. Learn more about the VIP program here.

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