FERGUSON, Mo. — Firefighters battled far more than flames and smoke during protests Monday night in Ferguson, as the work of rioters and arsonists fueled TV broadcasts and social media feeds across the nation.
A steady volley of gunfire prevented firefighters from even reaching 21 fires that raged for hours Monday night and early Tuesday, officials said, after the announcement of a grand jury’s decision not to charge a Ferguson police officer in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
“As it relates to the firefighters, it’s tragic that the things that we go to great lengths to protect were burned,” said Mike Thiemann, a spokesman for Region C Fire Mutual Aid, which has readied more than 80 fire and emergency medical service agencies to respond in Ferguson.
Constant gunfire and the sheer number of simultaneous fires burning along West Florissant Avenue made for a challenging response even with more than 250 firefighters and paramedics ready to work, Thiemann said. Fire and rescue workers from St. Louis, St. Charles, Lincoln, Jefferson and Franklin counties have been tapped to help.
“Just turning around in a circle you could see five working fires,” he said. “It was a busy, stressful, complicated evening, but we made it through.”
St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar estimated that he heard gunfire more than 150 times Monday night. As a result, firefighters at times were forced to retreat for their safety. The procedure, Belmar said, is for police to ensure a fire scene is safe and free of other hazards before allowing firefighters to start their work.
For example, Belmar said firefighters were forced to pull back Monday night while attacking a blaze at a public storage business on West Florissant Avenue at Canfield Drive. Meanwhile, other businesses, such as Beauty Town, 9163 West Florissant, were allowed to burn down because police allowed no firefighters near. Belmar said there was no standing order for firefighters not to respond Monday night, but police were trying to restore order on the streets to clear the way.
Flames engulfed or damaged various businesses, including a Dellwood auto dealership where at least a dozen cars were burned, a Conoco gas station, a Walgreens, a Little Caesars pizza shop, Sam’s Meat Market, an AutoZone and a TitleMax.
“Did we let things happen?” Belmar said. “Certainly not. But please keep in mind that at certain times there’s not a lot we can do about any given thing than just try to maintain.”
On Tuesday, three investigators with the state fire marshal’s office surveyed fire damage in Ferguson, Belmar said. No damage estimate was available Tuesday, but officials were relieved the fires caused no serious injuries.
©2014 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Visit the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at www.stltoday.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC
PHOTOS (for help with images, contact 312-222-4194):FERGUSON