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Oil-soaked Rags Ignited Firehouse Blaze

By Jorge Casuso

April 19 -- Oil soaked rags -- similar to those that ignited a blaze injuring a fire fighter three weeks ago -- caused the Thursday-night fire that tore through the roof of a firehouse under construction in Ocean Park.

A Fire Department investigation on Friday found that the blaze -- which caused $500,000 in damages and pushed the completion of Fire Station Number 2 back months behind schedule -- was sparked when an oil-soaked rag spontaneously ignited.

The rag, which was soaked with oil used to finish wood, was balled up, limiting air flow and causing the oil and cloth to generate enough excess heat to ignite.

"When there is no air movement, it becomes hot enough to ignite by itself," said Fire Department spokeswoman Jill Barnes.

The fire gutted the upper floor -- which houses the dorm, recreation room, bathrooms and weight room -- of the new station on the 200 block of Hollister Avenue, delaying the opening by at least several months, Barnes said.

"A couple of rooms are gutted," Barnes said. "There is a substantial amount of damage upstairs."

The blaze came three weeks after a firefighter suffered a minor injury while fighting a blaze that broke out when oil-soaked rags discarded in a trash alcove adjoining a home's garage spontaneously ignited.

After that fire, which caused no other injuries, the fire department cautioned residents to be careful when disposing of oil-soaked rags.

Rags should be soaked in water, spread out and dried before they are discarded, Barnes said

"Lay them out flat, don't ball them up," she stressed.
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