Damage estimated at $60 million from Safeway center fire

Damage estimated at $60 million from Safeway center fire


RICHMOND, Calif. -- Safeway Stores said a spectacular blaze at the supermarket chain's biggest distribution center caused an estimated $60 million damage -- half of it to stored groceries -- but that area food prices would not rise because of the worst fire in the city's history.
The fire started about 10 p.m. Monday, and firefighters said it was under control by 3 a.m. Tuesday, but flames could still be seen 24 hours later at the 3.5-acre complex.
At its height, flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air could be seen 15 miles away across the bay in downtown San Francisco. Fire investigators could still not get into the sprawling warehouse complex Tuesday because of the intense heat and flames, which were being allowed to burn themselves out.
The fire caused $30 million damage to the warehouse complex and another $30 million in inventory loss, but company officials said Tuesday that Safeway's prices would not be affected by the losses, even though the center distributed food to 200 stores in northern and central California.
'This will not have any impact on our stores,' Safeway spokesman Bob Bradford said Tuesday, adding that supplies would be obtained from four wholesalers in the San Francisco Bay area as well as from other Safeway depots in the West.
Scores of firefighters remained at the huge distribution center Tuesday, but Capt. Joseph Robinson said the flames were in no danger of spreading and 'We're just letting it burn itself out.'
Nearly 200 night shift workers were in the warehouse when the fire broke out, but there were no injuries. The cause of the blaze was not known.
There were reports by warehouse workers that the fire was sparked when a forklift accidentally struck a lighting fixture on the 30-foot ceiling, sending a shower of sparks down upon stacks of paper products.
The building's sprinkler system was activated, but proved no match for flames that raged through stacks of toilet paper, towels and other highly flammible products, fanned by winds coming off San Francisco Bay at better than 40 mph, firefighters said.
Flying embers started several small fires around the complex, but all were put out quickly.
Employees said the fire erupted in the paper goods section, where towels, tissues, toilet paper and other highly flammable products were stacked.
'The whole thing happened so fast you wouldn't believe it,' said Mike McDow, who was on a forklift several aisles from the fire.
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