Torched Fresno utility pole yard's hydrant system broken for years

A three-acre utility pole yard that went up in flames Thursday in Fresno has not had a working fire hydrant system in at least two years – the last time a blaze ripped through the facility, Fire Department officials said.

“It’s just not something we can require them to put in,” said Fresno Fire Department spokesman Pete Martinez. “From what I heard, it was going to cost them quite a lot of money for me to get it back up and working again.”

About 3:30 a.m. a fire began to tear through the McFarland Cascade utility pole yard off Golden State Boulevard and Ashlan Avenue. It went unchecked because firefighters had no hydrant to hook up to to extinguish the flames.

In their scramble to find water, crews had to cross a railroad spur and cut through nearby businesses’ fences to find a hydrant, Martinez said. In the end, firefighters stretched out about 1,000 feet of hose between a pair of hoses, each about five inches wide and blasting out some 3,000 gallons of water per minute.

The last time a fire broke out there, in 2013, crews also found the property’s fire hydrant system out of service. It was never repaired, he said. McFarland Cascade is not the property owner.

With the flames going unabated until firefighters could get the water flowing, the fire spread from just five or six piles of poles to about 20 across the site, Martinez said. He estimated it will take about a day to put it all out.

“We’re doing our best – just surround it and take a defensive stance and don’t let it get bigger,” Martinez said.

The wood is soaked in a special oil that prevents deterioration, but it also makes them more flammable and the radiant heat from one burning pile would ignite another.

“At this point, we’re just going to let it burn,” Martinez said, adding that the company estimated the loss at between $1 million and $3 million.

McFarland Cascade provides poles for a host of West Coast utility companies including Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Martinez said crews are preparing to work at the yard until Friday. Arson investigators are canvassing the area to see if neighboring businesses had security cameras for any clues on what started the blaze, a standard part of any fire investigation, he said.

The cause of Thursday’s blaze has yet to be determined.

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UPDATE, 2:13 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional details about the utility pole yard's fire hydrant system.

UPDATE, 11:52 a.m.: This story has been updated with additional details about the fire. It was originally published at 6:45 a.m.