updated: Feb 14, 2014, 8:35 PM
By Ventura City Fire Department
On Feb.14, at 7:47am Ventura's Community Services Director, Peter Brown, was driving to work Friday
morning and noticed an all to familiar sight of smoke emanating from the Ventura River at the 101
bridge. However, this time was a bit different -- the asphalt on the right shoulder was also smoking and
melting in places. He knew this was not an ordinary river bottom fire. Peter made contact with Ventura
City Fire and guided them into the location.
"Flames were running laterally down a vault that spanned the entire bridge." Captain Ben Davis stated,
"The confined space runs parallel with the bridge and is directly under the concrete. The space is about
two and a half feet tall, five to seven feet wide, and almost 1000 feet in length. A vagrant camp was
located at the point of entry to the vault and we believe that space was stuffed with personal items. The
fire really took off and we were registering temperatures exceeding 500 degrees, this coupled with
hardly any access, made this a challenging fire."
The vault is used to run several utilities the span of the bridge. High voltage power warnings are posted
in multiple areas adjacent to the fire so firefighters were very cautious attempting to put out the fire
while trying to avoid electrocution. Cal Trans and Southern California Edison arrived on scene and
assisted in putting together a coordinated effort to limit the damage to the bridge.
The situation was made even more difficult because the asphalt above the fire became so hot that it was
emanating vapors. Thermal imaging cameras detected surface temperatures in excess of 200 degrees
and spots became sponge like.
Cal Trans dispatched a bridge specialty crew out of Los Angeles to assess damage and to determine if
the bridge could still safely be used.
The fire was knocked down in a little more than two and a half hours. Residual smoke and steam,
trapped within the vault, continued to flow out of drain holes for hours. The vault remained so hot, that
firefighters could not enter to physically search the vault. Ventura dispatched their Urban Search and
Rescue Team to use remote cameras that are designed to search through small tight spaces, to assess
the extent of the fire spread. Even though visibility was poor, the fire appeared to be completely
extinguished in all parts of the 1000-foot span.
The full extent of the damage remains uncertain until a Cal Trans Engineering Team can make access.
The fire was contained to a single compartmentalized section of the bridge that did not run under the
actual driving lanes. It is expected that temperatures in the vault will be too hot to enter for the next 24
hours. In the meantime, the shoulder area of the freeway on the bridge will be coned off until inspected.
CalTrans boarded up the access point of the vault and will place a permanent lockable door on the
opening this next week.
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