Oven fire closed Walmart for two hours

Sonny Long

June 15, 2010 at 1:15 a.m.

In the early moments after a fire was extinguished at Walmart, Esteban Garza somehow managed to enter the store and purchase several items.

In the early moments after a fire was extinguished at Walmart, Esteban Garza somehow managed to enter the store and purchase several items.

Estaban Garza strolled out of Walmart on Tuesday morning, shopping basket filled with plastic bags.

Normally that would not be unusual, but Garza had returned to the store before authorities signaled it was OK to re-enter. Police evacuated the building because of a fire in the bakery.

The fire call came in at 8:24 a.m. and when Victoria police arrived - the first responders on the scene - flames and smoke poured from the roof, Police Chief Bruce Ure said.

Shift manager Barbara Sells said the fire was confined to the bakery area and customers were not allowed back inside until about 10:30 a.m.

Garza said he wasn't sure how he was able to get back in undetected before police said it was OK. Only employees were allowed inside when Garza completed his shopping. Police officers stood at each entrance to stop all other customers from entering the store.

"I was almost at the checkout when the fire started, and they made us go out," Garza said. "So when I saw the workers going back in, I just walked in and checked myself out at the self-checkout counter. I figured everyone would be mad at me."

But no one said anything to the blue-clad shift worker as he made his way back to his car with his shopping cart.

Brother and sister Robbie Bookwalter and Roxann Harvey, of Edna, came to Victoria expecting to grocery shop at Walmart, four children in tow.

"We had just pulled up, gotten out and headed toward the store. We saw a lot of smoke coming from the roof," Bookwalter said. "Then workers started coming out and smoke was pouring out the door."

Harvey, who suffers from asthma, said when she saw the smoke billowing from the door, she immediately turned around.

"I knew I didn't need to be anywhere near that much smoke," she said.

Sells said when the fire was first detected an announcement was made in the store for the employees to evacuate. Walmart uses a color code system to alert employees to emergencies.

Customers, too, were herded toward the doors.

Ten-year Walmart associate Mary Arenas said she could smell smoke when the evacuation announcement came.

"Everything was orderly," she said. "I was never scared or anything."

Sells said she walked the floor and was the last one out to make sure everyone was accounted for. About 50 employees were evacuated. Sells wasn't sure how many customers and vendors were in the store at the time, but all were evacuated, she said.

When Victoria Fire Department personnel arrived smoke, but no flames, showed from the roof, said Fire Chief Vance Riley.

The store sustained only minor damage, which was limited to an oven, the flue above the oven and the roof around the flue, he said.

The fire department responded with three engines, the ladder truck, two ambulances and 19 personnel, said the chief.

Assistant Fire Marshal Roger Stuart said the cause of the fire was undetermined, but it started in one of the ovens. Stuart said Walmart would send safety personnel to study the cause of the fire.



Powered By AffectDigitalMedia