Billowing black smoke blanketed the skyline around Charlottesville Monday afternoon as firefighters battled a blaze at the indoor practice facility at the University of Virginia.
The building in the 300 block of Massie Road off Emmett Street, which was still under construction, caught on fire around 12:30 p.m. It took every fire truck in the city to put the blaze out. Crews spent more than an hour putting the fire out, but continued to put out hotspots through the afternoon. About 20 percent of the roof burned. No one was injured.
UVA interim spokesperson McGregor McCance says the preliminary report revealed that a cutting torch used in construction ignited the insulation in the roof, which caused the rubber membrane of the roof to burn. That rubber membrane is what caused the massive amounts of black smoke. The insulation and membrane are part of the lightning protection systems for the building.
According to a UVA projects report, the contractor of the new practice facility is Barton Malow. The building, which will be named for former UVA Football Coach George Welsh, is part of a $13 million project. It was supposed to be complete by next August. A representative with the company referred all questions about Monday's incident to UVA.
As of 5:00 Monday afternoon, there is no estimate on damage cost.
Press Release Charlottesville Fire Department
Today at approximately 12:35 pm, CFD responded to a reported fire at the outdoor UVA Football Practice Facility which is now under construction. Firefighters were confronted with a number of challenges. First, the fire was on the roof of a facility which posed a high access problem. Second, the construction site had very limited access to the facility which made access by our aerial ladder units extremely difficult. Both of these contributing factors along with wind, made application of water directly onto the fire extremely difficult.
The fire, which mainly involved insulation and the rubber roof membrane, became so hot that the rubber liquefied and was spilling from the roof and on fire as it dripped to below. There was concern that the burning liquid rubber may flow over onto the adjacent UVA Field Hockey field. Nearby watering sprinklers were used to provide protection to the field.
Finally, after placement pieces of wood shoring on very uneven and soft ground, CFD was able to set the outriggers and safely reposition the aerial ladder on the south side of the facility. This allowed us to use a solid bore nozzle which provided a pressurized and solid stream of water onto the facility roof directly and penetrate the decking and extinguish the seat of the fire.
For several hours following, CFD worked with roofing contractors to perform a roof trench cut around the entire burnt area to ensure that the fire was out and that it could not spread.
Fortunately the wind was blowing in a direction away from other buildings and toward the end of the facility's roof. This prevented the situation from getting much more serious. Our hope is that the largest portion of the roof that was undamaged can be salvaged.