Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Farewell to another piece of Mat Maid

Fire crews respond to the Mat Maid fire early the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 7 in a photo
posted that morning on Facebook by Palmer Mayor DeLena Johnson.

A fast-moving fire destroyed the historic Matanuska Maid warehouse early this morning. 

The building was long vacant. No injuries were reported.

Firefighters arriving on scene could see the building was likely a total loss, so they focused on a bigger problem: making sure the blaze didn't reach the nearby, petroleum-loaded Crowley Maritime tank farm.
Photo by Rindi White
By daylight, the Mat Maid warehouse was gone.
The dairy's former bottling plant is part of the
property on the right.

The first 9-1-1 call came at 3:33 a.m. from someone at Valley Hotel, Palmer public safety director Jon Owen said this morning. A total of 31 separate pieces of firefighting apparatus responded to the blaze, including three ladder trucks. Engines came from Palmer Fire Department and Mat-Su Central Fire Department, where responders mustered to an "all-call" from emergency dispatchers.

Palmer Fire Chief John McNutt was the first person to get to the fire. McNutt drove around the 9-acre Mat Maid complex and spotted flames shooting out from below the eaves. Within minutes, the roof was engulfed, Owen said.

Crews operating under a "surround and drown" strategy suppressed the fire. But their goal wasn't saving the old warehouse building, built in the 1930s, Owen said.  

Their focus instead was preventing "the conflagration" sure to follow if the fire reached the adjacent  Crowley Maritime Corp. fuel sales office next door, where all the petroleum products on site would pose a tremendous problem should they ignite, he said.  

The Palmer tank farm holds 100,000 gallons of petroleum products and serves as a distribution center for Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, and all the Matanuska Valley, according to Crowley's Web site.

The fire was knocked down by 6:40 a.m.

Photos courtesy Palmer police Officer Jason Crockett

The warehouse used to be used for produce sold out of one end. Rindi remembers walking through it with owner Bill Ingaldson a few years back; during the visit, she picked up an old potato sack decorated with the Matanuska Maid in her skating costume. Palmerites may remember that former city manager Bill Allen hoped to put a convention center on the property. 

This is the second destructive fire at the Mat Maid complex. A wind-whipped arson fire set by three teenagers destroyed the hardware store in February, 2003. 

Investigators were at the scene by 10 a.m. or so trying to determine the cause of the fire; finding the ignition source is key when there's no obvious heat source like a boiler, Owen said. Anything suspicious will be followed up. The investigation is being conducted by John Bond, an inspector with the Alaska State Fire Marshal's Office, and Palmer police Sgt. Shayne La Croix.

Anyone with information about this morning's fire is asked to call Sgt. La Croix at 745-4811.

-- Zaz Hollander

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