- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2013

Two hundred firefighters battled a massive six-alarm blaze in Alexandria on Monday that heavily damaged a construction warehouse and threatened a neighboring apartment community.

No injuries were reported from the fire, which broke out shortly before noon in the 800 block of South Pickett Street and just half a block from where a water main broke earlier in the day. One firefighter was taken to a hospital with what officials described as a minor medical condition.

By 4 p.m., fire officials said they had contained the fire but that it would likely take the rest of the day to completely extinguish it and determine the cause.

“We have turned the corner where we’re closer to getting the fire out,” said Robert Rodriguez, chief fire marshal and spokesman for the Alexandria fire department. “It is a large fire and it’s always safety in numbers, but we can’t work [the firefighters] to death.”

The first call for the fire went out at about 11:45 a.m., and within an hour the inferno sent an enormous plume of black smoke high into the air, making a starkly ugly contrast with the clear blue, late-summer sky. The plume could be seen for several miles, and the smell of smoke was noticeable as far away as the Springfield Mixing Bowl.

Sherry McDonald, 50, from West Springfield, said she was shopping in Kingstowne, about 3 miles away from the warehouse, when she saw the fire.

“Oh, my God, it was huge,” Ms. McDonald said as she watched firefighters spraying the warehouse with water. “We wanted to snoop. We wanted to get closer. How often do you get this big a fire?”

Chief Rodriguez said the fire was the largest in Alexandria since a four-alarm blaze two years ago. He said that fire was in an apartment complex just around the corner from the warehouse.

Mr. Rodriguez said a partial roof collapse at the warehouse complicated suppression efforts, as did the heat and the water main break.

Prince George’s County Fire Chief Marc S. Bashoor said his crews were called in to assist with supply line work to get water to the fire.

“That’s standard mutual aid,” he said.

Arlington and Fairfax counties also sent assistance.

Firefighting efforts snarled early afternoon traffic in the West End and Landmark neighborhoods of Alexandria and closed nearby exits to the Capital Beltway.

Around the intersection of South Van Dorn Street and South Pickett Street, orange water hoses snaked along the road, while dozens of emergency and fire vehicles stood sentry around the burning warehouse.

At South Port Apartments, a community separated by several feet and a tree line from the warehouse, dozens of residents stood watching the billowing smoke or used their phones to record the flames leaping from the warehouse roof.

Watching from her ground-level porch, 37-year-old Michelle Smith said she heard odd sounds on Sunday coming from the warehouse.

“It was outside and it sounded like a fuse blew,” Ms. Smith said. “Today I kept hearing something that sounded like boom, boom, boom.”

Jeffrey Mitchelle, 49, said he also heard a succession of “pop, pop, pop” on Monday morning. The Alexandria resident who lives within walking distance of the warehouse said he was on his way to breakfast when he heard the noise. Then he noticed the flames.

“It was a lot of fire,” he said. “You couldn’t help but see it.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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