A 3- alarm fire that started just after noon today at the Garden Ridge store located on Interstate 45 just north of SH 242. All 23 employees were able to escape the massive blaze that over ran the sprinkler system early on in the fire. All the customers are believed to have escaped. However, there are two vehicles that remain in the parking lot which have not been claimed. Officials say this could be as simple as someone rode to work with a co-worker and used this parking lot as a meeting place. One employee was transported to St. Lukes Hospital with smoke inhalation.
The fire which was so intense that it ripped through the roof. The building is what is called tilt wall construction and depends on the roof members for its structural integrity. The firefighters were forced to fight the fire from the outside. At times the walls separated and looked as it they would collapse but as water flowed across the area the contracting steel pulled the walls back in.
Chief Kevin Hossler of the Needham Road Fire Department was driving north on the I45 feeder just approaching 242 when they saw the smoke. They had just made a fire at the Oak Ridge High School which turned out to be a cheeseburger in the microwave.
Chief Hossler said they decided to check it since no alarms had been dispatched. As they pulled up to the front of the building with heavy smoke and fire dispatch was dispatching the fire. The store which is mostly in Conroe city limits was also dispatched to Conroe units. As the crew from Conroe Station 4 at FM 1488 and I45 were getting on the trucks they too realized it was going to be a long day with the heavy black smoke already billowing into the sky.
Officials evacuated Wal-Mart and Kohl’s due to not just the fire hazard but the intense black smoke from the burning plastics within the store and also burning fertilizer.
During the height of the fire large pieces of burned plastic could be seen floating in the air. Hydrocarbons also rained down on firefighters with black droplets landing on everything.
Six different departments fought the blaze which at 5 pm continued to burn.
The Woodlands, Conroe, Needham Road, South Montgomery County, Magnolia and River Plantation fire department attacked the fire using six aerial ladder trucks. Other departments were called to back in to stations in case of another call. Ponderosa Fire Department located off FM 1960 backed into Conroe’s station to assist.
At times the fire grew intense at the front of the building and not being able to enter it firefighters were forced to use a ladder truck pushing it through the broken out windows attempting to get water to the seat of the fire.
Fire Marshal’s from Montgomery County, Shenandoah, The Woodlands, Conroe and the ATF were on the scene to investigate the fire. The Department of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Rapid Response Team was also en route to the scene from Washington D.C.
Investigators said the 110,000 square foot building which is in both Conroe city limits and The Woodlands will hurt sales tax revenue as one of the busiest times of year is Christmas. A store employee said they had just started putting out Christmas displays.
Garden Ridge which is based in Houston has over fifty stores across the United States from Florida to Michigan.They employee 2,500 employee’s within the company. The company started in 1979 as Garden Ridge Pottery.
ATF is responding with their National Response Team and are expected to be here in the morning. In addition Fire Marshal’s from Conroe, Shenandoah, and Montgomery County.