Early morning fire destroys shoppette on Kleber Kaserne
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — U.S. Army officials were busy Monday investigating the cause of a fire that burned for hours overnight and gutted the Kleber Kaserne shoppette, just days before the store was to undergo roof renovations and move operations into a nearby temporary facility.
The fire was reported at 11:50 p.m. Sunday when someone called 112, the emergency number in Germany, said Mark Heeter, a U.S. Army Garrison-Kaiserslautern spokesman.
About 50 Army, Air Force and German firefighters battled the blaze with three ladder trucks, and extinguished the fire by about 3:45 a.m. Monday, Heeter said.
At one point, flames reached 45 feet into the air, Heeter said, and could be seen from the autobahn, almost a mile away. No injuries were reported.
“This is the largest structure fire the Army has had to face here in many years,” he said. “This had the potential to get really, really bad.”
Firefighters were still mopping up the scene Monday morning as people drove to work on Kleber. The shoppette was blocked off by police tape, its parking lot still wet and littered with ash and broken pieces of roof shingles. The front door to the store was missing and there was a hole where the roof once was. Inside, everything was charred, no merchandise or store fixtures recognizable.
The place smelled like a giant ashtray.
The fire spread marginally to adjacent buildings that share the shoppette complex, including the Kleber Child Development Center, which extends out behind the shoppette.
It was shuttered Monday, having sustained smoke and water damage; a small section of its roof, closest to the shoppette, burned in the fire. The center was expected to remain closed for the rest of the week, if not longer, Heeter said.
Spaces for the 50 to 60 children enrolled at Kleber will be made at two Army child development centers on Landstuhl, Heeter said.
The Landstuhl centers were canceling hourly care for the week to make room for the displaced children. Parents at Kleber are asked to call the Army’s child and youth services central enrollment on Pulaski Barracks up until 7 p.m. Monday to find out which center will accept their child starting Tuesday. The numbers are: DSN 493-4516/4122 or commercial 0631-3406-4516/4122.
Other tenants of the complex were also without a home Monday. Civilian Human Resources Agency and Pond Security won’t be able to work for the time being from their training and office space next to the shoppette, Heeter said. A Community Bank ATM is also not useable. Money from the machine was recovered overnight, according to Heeter.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Heeter said Monday. He said it’s believed to have started in the shoppette.
“Everything in the shoppette is destroyed.”
Army and Air Force Exchange Service and U.S. Army officials were still estimating the cost of the damage. The roofs on all the buildings in the complex, except the shoppette, were renovated within the last six months, an improvement that cost about $900,000, according to Army officials. The shoppette was to be next.
German workers installing electrical fixtures in a big white tent, less than 50 yards from the shoppette, were befuddled by the situation Monday. The tent was errected to temporarily house the store while the shoppette had its roof renovated, and was set to open on Wednesday. Now, that inventory is gone. Work to ready the tent was proceeding Monday but none of the workers knew if or when it might open.
“We’re working with AAFES to get them a temporary fix,” Heeter said. He did not know whether the shoppette could or would be rebuilt.
Air Force firefighters from Ramstein Station No. 8 near Kleber were the first on scene, along with Kaiserslautern city firefighters, Heeter said. Army firefighters from Sembach and Miseau also were called in, and volunteer firefighters from Otterberg also helped.
“It was a quick … cooperative effort among” U.S. military and city firefighters, Heeter said.