By Charles Whisnand
Editor's Note: While there has been numerous reports on social media concerning what happened to firefighters and the cause of the fire, the article in The Recorder today covers just what has been confirmed by officials as of 8 p.m.
One firefighter died and one is unaccounted for after battling a fire that virtually destroyed the Porterville City Library on Tuesday.
Tulare County Fire Chief Charlie Norman confirmed the death of one firefighter and stated another was unaccounted for. No other details were released concerning those two firefighters.
“We're hoping to find that firefighter in very short oder,” said Norman about the firefighter unaccounted for during a press conference at about 8 p.m.
The fire was reported at about 4:15 p.m. Tuesday. A second alarm was pulled after the fire was reported.
Porterville Police Officer Eric Kroutl said an investigation would be done if there was anything criminal concerning the fire and “if it was intentionally caused.” He added Porterville Police had the full support of Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and his department in the investigation.
Firefighters from the Porterville Fire Department, Tulare County Fire Department, Cal Fire, City of Tulare and City of Fresno battled the blaze at the library, which was built in 1953.
More than 50 firefighters battled the blaze. Porterville Police and emergency medical personnel from Imperial Ambulance was also on scene.
There were 16 apparatus used to fight the blaze, including numerous trucks and three ladders, one from the Porterville Fire Department and one from the city of Tulare. Firefighters worked furiously to make sure the fire didn't spread to the adjacent fire station to the south of the library and City Hall to the east of the library.
At least two firefighters were placed on the roof of city hall and along with the three ladders, a hose was also used from the roof of city hall to battle the blaze at the library. “We're definitely utilizing all angles,” said Tulare County Fire Captain Joanne Bear about battling the blaze.
At about 8:15 p.m. flames and smoke could still be seen coming from the library. During the 8 p.m. press conference, Norman said firefighters would still be on scene for several hours to bring the fire under control.
At about 5:40 p.m., flames erupted from the roof of the library. Black smoke from the flames enveloped a large portion of Porterville. Smoke from the fire could also be seen as far away as Terra Bella, Lindsay and Springville.
One of the two firefighters who were casualties was pulled out of the library by several firefighters. One firefighter was administering first aid, applying to hands to the firefighter's chest.
After that one firefighter was taken away, one firefighter could be seen breaking down in tears. But he quickly gathered himself and returned to assist in battling the fire.
Porterville Fire Chief Dave LaPere confirmed two firefighters were injured, adding one of the firefighters was air lifted for medical assistance, but said he couldn't comment any further.
When asked about the insurance the city had for the library, Porterville City Manager John Lollis said “Good. Everything is covered.”
He added the policy covered the library's replacement value.
But Lollis obviously wasn't concerned about any of that while watching the library burn. “I'm just worried about our personnel right now,” he said.