Fire Damages Pressroom, Slows Newspaper Delivery

A fire apparently ignited by a machine malfunction spread early Saturday morning through the pressroom and mail room at the Union-Tribune building, causing extensive damage and delaying delivery of the San Diego Union.

Bob Robinson, an assistant general manager of the Union-Tribune Publishing Co., said the fire probably caused less than $1 million in damage.

No Injuries Reported

He expected that normal delivery would be resumed this morning for the Union.


No one was injured in the fire, which erupted about 1:15 a.m. in a newspaper folding machine and spread along paper bundles being carried by conveyor to the mailing room.

About 200 employees were safely evacuated.

“We were very fortunate, thank God, that no one was hurt,” Robinson said.

Fire Battalion Chief Russell Loughy said damage was confined to the second-floor area, with much of it caused by extensive water released from overhead sprinklers.


The fire chief said three engine companies, two truck companies and fire investigators remained on the scene in Mission Valley for two hours before pinpointing the cause to a malfunction in the folder machine. The device is used to fold newspapers as they come off the press and move onto a conveyor belt.

Robinson said that before the fire broke out, 75,000 copies of a total run of 275,000 had been printed for the Union’s Saturday edition. He said two presses were running again by 7:15 a.m. and all papers were printed by 10 a.m.

He said the fire activated a horn alarm, warning employees to leave the building because a carbon dioxide suppressant system would be released to smother the flames.

Overhead Sprinklers Kicked In

He said the overhead water sprinklers began working when the burning papers moved high along the conveyor belt.

“The papers were on fire, the horn went off, the people evacuated the building,” he said. “In the meantime, the papers on the conveyor system were still on fire and moved out to the mail room, but the employees in that area were able to contain those.”

The damage to the folder and press line was originally believed to be as high as $2.5 million. But by noon Saturday, Robinson said, newspaper officials were able to examine the burned equipment. They then lowered their estimate.

“I would expect it would be under a million dollars,” he said. “I feel fairly confident in that now.”


He added that after taking apart the damaged equipment, it was learned that slivers of newsprint were apparently ignited by a problem with a bearing in the folding machine.

“When all that happened, it created a tremendous amount of heat and friction,” he said.

The presses and other machinery were purchased in fall, 1973, he said, when the Union-Tribune moved its offices to Mission Valley, near Interstate 8 and Camino De La Reina.