One firefighter was fatally injured and another was missing Tuesday evening after dozens of first responders rushed to put out a fire that engulfed the Porterville, Calif., library.
Officials said at a news conference that they were still working to notify the next of kin of the firefighter who was killed while battling the blaze.
“We also have one additional firefighter who is currently unaccounted for at this time,” said Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman. “We’re working through suppression, and when it’s safe to operate, we will get back in the building and hopefully find that firefighter in very short order.”
At 4:14 p.m., the Porterville Fire Department was dispatched to the fire at the library, which sits one block from a city fire station. Firefighters quickly called for additional resources as flames shot through the roof of the library. More than 50 firefighters from several departments, including Cal Fire and Fresno County Fire, responded to the blaze, which was still burning late Tuesday evening.
Norman said although he wasn’t familiar with the specific building, libraries typically have a significant amount of fuel, and firefighters anticipated being on scene for several more hours.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, and fire investigators were on the scene looking into any potential criminal element of the fire, said Porterville Police Chief Eric Kroutil.
Officials declined to expand on whether any patrons or staff were inside the library when it caught fire. The library is typically open until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, according to its website.
The library’s building was built in 1953 and was not equipped with a sprinkler system, said Tulare County Fire Capt. Joanne Bear, the acting public information officer for incident.
About a month ago, local leaders held a special joint meeting of the Porterville City Council and the Library and Literacy Commission to discuss the need for a new library, the Porterville Recorder reported.
At that meeting, Porterville Mayor Martha Flores asked how much the library’s operating costs were, the newspaper reported. City Manager John Lollis said the cost was about $1.25 million. A new library would cost an estimated $33 million, he said.