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Permit Lack Seen in Fatal Tank Blaze

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

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Unpermitted welding by three workers inside a "dilapidated" storage tank below a Dallas skyscraper apparently ignited the blaze that led to their deaths, authorities say.

Smoke inhalation from Thursday's (Dec. 11) fire caused the deaths of Nicacio Carrillo, 60; his nephew Luis Carrillo, 43; and Oscar Esparza-Romo, 36, fire officials confirmed.

Meanwhile, as multiple investigations into the incident continue, Dallas fire officials confirmed that neither the building owner nor the contractor had current permits for the hot work.

Contractors and Subs

The men were trapped at the bottom of the 35-foot-deep chiller tank during the fire, which forced the evacuation of about 2,800 people at the 50-story Thanksgiving Tower in downtown Dallas, officials said.

OscarEsparza
Family via gofundme

Oscar Esparza's friends are raising money for funeral expenses. Esparza was one of three victims.

The victims all worked for Texas HVAC, a subcontractor of Best Mechanical Inc. of Seagoville, TX,  authorities said. Best Mechanical had been hired by Lincoln Property Co. The 32-year-old building, which is undergoing an $18 million renovation, is owned by Woods Capital, news report said.

Texas HVAC had subcontracted to clean four water tanks at the tower, the Dallas Morning News reported this weekend. Texas HVAC could not be reached for comment Monday (Dec. 15)

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is among the agencies investigating the incident, said the workers had been using a torch to remove rusted pieces of the tank, which is "the size of about half a basketball court," the newspaper said.

Woods Capital vice president Billy Prewitt told the Morning News that "that inside of the tank had become dilapidated" and parts of it were not working properly.

Permits Cited

Dallas Fire-Rescue (DFR) Assistant Fire Chief Ted Padgett told local news outlets that neither the building owner nor Best Mechanical held current welding and cutting permits. The building's permit expired in March; Best Mechanical's, in 2009, Fox News and The Scoop Blog reported.

Permit information regarding Texas HVAC was not immediately available.

Nicacio and Luis Carrillo
Family via NBC-DFW

Victims Nicacio Carrillo (left) and nephew Luis Carrillo were "good guys," a relative said.

The victims were found after the fire. It took firefighters several hours to recover the bodies.

"There were several factors, including visibility and heat, [that] kept firefighters from immediately being able to enter" the basement area where the tank was located, said DFR spokesman Jason Evans.

Seeking a Source

The men were working deep inside a thermal storage tank on the second level of the tower's underground garage when the fire broke out about 11 a.m., authorities said.

Because DFR believed the fire was electrical, firegfighters had to wait for power to the entire building to be shut off before attacking the blaze, NBC's Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate reported.

Evans said the smoke was too thick at first to determine where the blaze originated.

“But when firefighters made their way to the source of the smoke, it turned out to be located in an equipment room, located at the bottom of a 35-foot hatch, on a lower parking garage level,” Evans told the Dallas Morning News.

The official cause of the fire and point of ignition remained under investigation.

Evacuation

About 2,800 people were evacuated from the glass tower while firefighters brought the three-alarm blaze under control. Several minor injuries were reported.

ThanksgivingTowerFirefighters
Dallas Office of Emergency Management

Heavy smoke prevented firefighters from finding the victims until after the blaze was out.

Occupants were allowed back in about 2:30 p.m. to retrieve their belongings and cars, the Dallas Office of Emergency Management said.

Best Mechanical spokeswoman Cheri Torres told WFAA.com that the victims "did have safety equipment and did have evacuation procedures."

'No Words'

Esparza left a wife and four children.

The family's friends have begun a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Esparza's funeral expenses. As of mid-day Friday, the site had raised $1,565 of its $8,000 goal.

"We have no words to describe what we are now going through," the site said.

No additional information was immediately available about the Carrillos.

But a relative, Gabriel Carrillo, told one news outlet: “I love the guys. The guys are good guys. I know he tried to (have a) better life every day."

   

Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Confined space; Fatalities; Fire; Health & Safety; Health and safety; Subcontractors; Tanks and vessels; Welding

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