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California Library Fire: 1 Fireman Killed & 1 Missing

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California library fire: One Porterville City firefighter has been killed and another firefighter is “unaccounted for” while battling blazes at the Porterville City library.

The first call came in at 4:14 p.m., and the second came in at 4:17 p.m. When crews arrived, they saw heavy smoke and flames coming from the building.

The fire was reported by employees around 4 p.m. Fire crews from Tulare County and Porterville responded and found the California library was ablaze, just steps from Porterville’s City Hall. The 1953 building was deemed historic by the city. There were no sprinklers inside.

A total of 55 firefighters were on the scene trying to put out the fire. The library dates back to 1953 and was still in operation.

Another Porterville firefighter remains “unaccounted for,” Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman said as he fought back tears. 

One firefighter dead, another missing in blaze at California Library Fire
USA Today

“We had a firefighter fatally injured during the operation,” Norman replied. “We are still working on notification of the family.”

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Tragedy Library Fire led to Death and Missing

The fire was reported by employees around 4 p.m. Many started evacuating the building before crews arrived. Smoke and flames could be seen from miles away along Highway 65 into the city.

Fire crews from Tulare County and Porterville were called to Main Street and Thurman Avenue where the California Library was burning, just steps from City Hall and the fire department. The 1953 building was deemed historic by the city.

The names of the firefighter killed and the missing firefighter have not been released. Both work for the city of Porterville, Norman said. 

“When it’s safe to operate we will be back in the building,” he stated. “Hopefully, we’ll find that firefighter. We are here for the city of Porterville. We are here for the fire industry.” 

A library full of books presents challenges for first responders.

“Typical a library of this size and magnitude has a significant fuel load,” Norman stated

There are 16 pieces of firefighting equipment at the scene.

More than 50 firefighters from several departments, including CAL FIRE and city and county crews, are working to battle the flames.

Officials in the fire department confirmed one Porterville firefighter died and another was missing, but no further information was available.

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Residents Feared it would be a “Total Loss”

Witnesses said there was heavy black smoke and “fireballs” shooting from the windows as firefighters doused the flames from all angles. 

“We love the library, this is so unbelievable to watch,” replied Jenny Forsythe, who said people were lining the streets to watch firefighters battle the blaze. “My kids are going to be devastated.”

Several videos circulating on Twitter showed flames coming out of the roof of the library, which sits about a block from the city’s fire department.

More than 50 firefighters from local, county and Cal Fire crews responded to the two-alarm fire that started about 4 pm.

Witnesses stated they saw people fleeing the library. The building seems to be heavily damaged.

The Porterville Police Department is working with fire officials to determine if this fire was intentionally set and if so, what charges the suspect or suspects will be looking at.

About a month ago, local leaders held a special joint meeting of the Porterville City Council and the Library and Literacy Commission to discuss the need for a new library, the Porterville Recorder reported.

At that meeting, Porterville Mayor Martha Flores asked how much the library’s operating costs were, the newspaper reported. City Manager John Lollis said the cost was about $1.25 million. A new library would cost an estimated $33 million, he stated.

It is not known what caused the fire.

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