Firefighters from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and local German fire stations worked throughout the night Sunday to contain a blaze that destroyed the Kleber Kaserne Shoppette and several nearby offices.
The convenience store, a regular stop for Soldiers, civilians and family members, caught fire just before midnight. A woman driving past noticed flames and reported the fire. Within minutes, dozens of firefighters received late-night calls.
Thick smoke billowed into the night sky as Axel Pollmann, the garrison’s deputy fire chief, exited the autobahn in Kaiserslautern’s east end. Pulling onto post, Pollmann saw 50-foot flames leaping skyward.
“The whole building was engulfed in flames,” Pollmann said. “Five minutes later, the roof collapsed and flames were spreading out. It was a pretty tough fire.”
U.S. Air Force officials at Ramstein dispatched firefighters from a nearby Air Force fire station. City firefighters from Kaiserslautern also responded. Then, U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern’s civilian firefighters from Sembach Kaserne and Miesau Army Depot joined the fight.
“When the Army firefighters arrived, they took over the interior attack,” Pollmann said.
More U.S. Air Force firefighters arrived. Two ladder trucks doused flames from above. German volunteers from Otterberg arrived with another ladder truck. In all, roughly 50 firefighters took part. Their cooperative effort was exemplary, Pollmann said.
“This could have been a lot worse if we didn’t work together,” Pollman said. “I mean, the whole building could be gone.”
Firefighters agreed that it was the largest structure fire ever on an Army post in Kaiserslautern. They cut power off the building’s power and soaked flare-ups until dawn. By 5:45 a.m., the fire was mostly out. Smoke lingered from charred embers as investigators attempted damage assessments. The cause of the fire is under investigation. No one was injured.
By early Monday, the smell of smoke clung thickly to humid air across the post. Murky runoff streamed from the fire site into nearby drains. Curious passersby stared into smoking debris, snapping photos and shaking their heads.
Stacey Peters, an employee at the nearby headquarters of Stars and Stripes newspaper, wondered about the commotion and walked over to see for herself, she said.
“I use the shoppette all the time, usually to get a water or a snack in the afternoon,” Peters said, as she photographed the store’s charred front door.
Garrison leaders worked with Army & Air Force Exchange Service officials to stock a temporary store inside a nearby tent, said Jason Rosenberg, AAFES Kaiserslautern area manager.
“The Exchange is doing everything possible to get the temporary store up and running as quickly as possible to avoid any prolonged disruption of service to the community following this event,” Rosenberg said. “We have all hands on decks and using all available resources to get the temporary facility up and running by this weekend.”
Offices and classrooms for contracted security guards and civilian training were also destroyed. The building houses civilian personnel records. Workers removed the undamaged files Monday.
Behind the store, the Child Development Center, a day care program for children in military families, sustained some damage and was expected to be closed for at least a week, said Steven Pelletier, the garrison’s Director of Family and Morale Welfare & Recreation, who oversees child and youth services.
On Monday, a training holiday for most U.S. Army Soldiers in Europe, CDC staff called families to explain the situation and offer alternative sites for care. Most children and staff will go to the Landstuhl CDC. A few will receive care at Sembach Kaserne. Also, hourly care will be offered at Miesau until further notice, Pelletier said.
“Each patron that receives child care will continue to have child care,” Pelletier said. “We ask that everyone just be flexible as we work through this.”