Salt Lake firefighters slipped and sloshed through thick, oily water early Monday to extinguish a fire sparked in an electric generator deep in the bowels of the ZCMI Center.
Alarms alerted firefighters at 4:55 a.m., and the sprinkling system apparently put the flames out. But the generator in sub-level three of the basement spewed enough smoke that the fire wasn't considered contained for nearly an hour, until 5:42 a.m. Firefighters felt like they were swimming in a muddy pool or walking on ice, said Battalion Chief Gordon Nicholl."We are not sure how much electrical damage there is to the building," Nichols said, although he said the mall would be open for business later Monday. "There is so much oil and water down there that the firefighters are having a really hard time standing up."
Six engines, two ladder trucks and a light truck responded to the scene, which caused closure of both 100 South and State Street for a time. The fire department also called its Hazardous Materials team to the scene, as many older generators operated on fuel containing carcinogenic PCBs.
However, experts later determined the generator didn't contain hazardous chemicals.
Nicholl said it could take a day or two before experts can determine the extent of damage to the building's electrical system.
Two construction workers, Tony Garcia and Joel Segura, were working at the Deseret Book store early Monday when they smelled smoke coming from the service elevator and went downstairs. `It was so full of smoke you couldn't see at all," said Garcia.
He termed it an oily smell, like that of a motor or generator burning up. The pair were forced to crawl out of the area on their stomachs. By the time they returned upstairs, the fire department had responded to the alarms.