No cause determined for fire near Yokota flight line
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. military and Japanese fire officials were unable to determine the cause of a blaze earlier this month that partially destroyed an abandoned base building once used as the headquarters for the University of Maryland University College operation in Asia and the Pacific.
Investigators, however, ruled out foul play and also said faulty wiring couldn’t be blamed since no power current was feeding the one-story structure, which had been scheduled for demolition.
“We looked at it, the Tokyo Fire Department looked at it and there was nothing on the surface that would require any further investigation,” Charles Funkhouser, Yokota’s deputy fire chief, said Thursday. “It was already in the process of being demolished. They were right in middle of that when the fire broke out.”
No one was injured in the Dec. 14 fire, which started around 9:15 p.m. Base firefighters needed more than three hours to extinguish it, but damage was confined to that building, Building 526, which sits a block away from Yokota’s flight line.
The blaze closed Airlift Avenue, the base’s main thoroughfare, and briefly interrupted a readiness exercise as officials paused to deal with the real-world crisis.
Because the building was being torn down anyway, firefighters brought in heavy equipment the night of the fire to tear off a section of the roof and get better access to the flames.
“Had it been a regular building, it would’ve been a much larger operation,” Funkhouser said. “We expedited things a little … [The civil engineer squadron] moved part of the roof for us so we could get a hose stream in there. That way, we didn’t have to risk a lot of people’s lives or injuries by getting them into the building itself.”
According to Bren Shuler, senior assistant to the director at UMUC-Asia, the facility was vacated more than two years ago but had stood as the institution’s nerve center in the theater since 1976, when it was moved from the old Tachikawa Air Base to Yokota.
UMUC-Asia serves students associated with the military in Japan, Okinawa, South Korea and Guam. It also operates several remote sites in locations such as Bangkok, Kwajalein and Singapore.
Headquarters officials now occupy Yokota’s Building 445.