XENIA — Chelsey and Andy Garrett remember the night like it just happened yesterday.
So does Xenia Fire Chief Ken Riggsby.
And Lt. Mike Bogan.
And every other firefighter who was on duty July 14, 2008.
Mention it as “the fire of 2008,” and like the 1974 tornado, people know what is being referenced.
That’s why every year on or around July 14, the Garretts visit the fire station on Main Street with treats for the firefighters. It’s just a small way of saying thank you, because without the firefighters expertise, the Garretts truly believe a lot of their possessions would have been destroyed by the massive flames shooting from the third floor of their apartment building at 990 S. Detroit Street.
“Stuff doesn’t matter,” Chelsey Garrett conceded. “But it’s part of your story. Just their care and their excellence in their care. So much of our stuff was spared. We had very minimal loss.”
The unique aspects of the fire led to a 16-page report that Riggsby still has on file, along with a plethora of research and training about smoke explosions. The report indicated the department was “very lucky that a firefighter was not severely injured or killed” even though standard operation procedures were followed.
“It’s definitely one you remember,” said Bogan, a veteran of more than two decades at the department. Riggsby added that he had never seen anything like it in his time either.
It was an epic fire event.
The department received the call shortly after 10 p.m. and when crews arrived, they observed a working fire and initiated an interior attack with water.
That’s when it became the cliched “one for the books.”
With nine of the 10 responding firefighters on the third floor, and no advanced warning, a massive explosion happened. At first it was thought to be a backdraft, which results from a rapid re-introduction of oxygen to combustion in an oxygen-depleted environment. But it was later determined to be a smoke explosion, similar to a backdraft but without the oxygen component.
Riggsby, who was a captain at the time, said he could see the roof lift into the air a few inches and come back down. The blast also blew a picture window 30 feet into the yard.
Firefighters also felt the effects of this rare event.
“We all got knocked down,” Bogan said. “The room lit up bright. We weren’t anticipating that. We got knocked down. I moved forward until I found the next guy on the line.”
Anxious times ensued as nobody outside or inside knew who was OK.
“It was real tense until we could account for everybody that was up there,” Bogan said. “Everyone was OK though.”
Riggsby said it was scarier for the crews working outside.
“They knew they were all OK,” he said. “(But) we weren’t getting any radio traffic. We had no idea at that point.”
Mutual aid came from Xenia Township and Beavercreek and eventually the fire was extinguished. Riggsby said the blast actually helped point crews in the right direction.
The source was traced to an electrical panel in a closet on the second floor, which burnt up the wall. Once the fire was under control, crews were able to preserve much of belongings of the tenants, especially the Garretts, who were in their first year of marriage and planning to move into a home shortly.
To mark the 10th anniversary, the Garretts, with kids, Micah and Logan, brought a plate of brownies and a sign.
“It means a lot to us,” Bogan said. “As much as we remember from it, it’s certainly a traumatic experience from their past.”
And it’s one they’ll continue to remember in the future.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.