Greenhouse fire destroys flowers destined for county facilities

Tens of thousands of dollars in plants for parks, airports lost

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A devastating fire that destroyed much of the county's main greenhouse in South Park likely means there will be far fewer flowers decorating county parks and facilities this summer.

"I would say that's a fair assumption," said Allegheny County Deputy Fire Marshal Donald A. Brucker, who is helping to investigate the blaze that occurred Friday night around 7:30 p.m..

The county fire marshal's office has not determined an exact cause of the fire yet. But, Mr. Brucker said, investigators do not believe it was arson.

Inside of the greenhouse, located on McConkey Road, were the majority of flowers that were being prepared for planting in the county parks, Greater Pittsburgh and Allegheny County airports, Kane regional centers, Shuman Center and Soldiers & Sailors Memorial, said Allegheny County Parks Director Andrew Baechle.

The total value of the loss, including the structure and plants, is estimated by Mr. Brucker as about $250,000. The replacement value of the flowers that were destroyed was between $20,000 to $30,000, Mr. Baechle said.

He said the cost to the county to grow the plants was far less because they were grown from seeds and plugs under the supervision of Denise Schreiber, the county's greenhouse manager.

Mr. Baechle said the county's crews were preparing to start planting the flowers this week.

"You never want to see a greenhouse burn down, but this is the worst time. This is when the absolute most damage could be done. It's a real shame" Mr. Baechle said.

"The good news is nobody was hurt. Everything else can be sorted out later."

Mr. Baechle said the county has four smaller greenhouses in other county parks that will provide some flowers for planting. But the largest volume of flowers that decorate county facilities came from the South Park greenhouse.

He said some of the flowers in the South Park greenhouse may be salvageable but "the majority were gone and it was really loaded with plants."

He said county officials are meeting this week to discuss how they to replace some of the flowers but it's almost certain that there will be far fewer flowers for use this summer.

They will also discuss where and how to replace the main greenhouse. On a temporary basis, Ms. Schreiber, who was headquartered at the greenhouse, is working out of the main office of South Park.

"She was just crushed over this loss. She puts a lot of heart and soul into this job," Mr. Baechle said.

Ms. Schreiber was unavailable for comment.

The fire was reported after the greenhouse was closed for the day by people who were walking in South Park last Friday night, Mr. Brucker said.

Not only was the building closed, but a chain link fence that encloses the public works compound in which it is located was locked, Mr. Brucker said.

The building was constructed largely of aluminum, fiberglass and plastic panels, which were mostly destroyed. A part of the building which is brick, is still standing, but gutted.

Inside, the greenhouse was filled with numerous rows of plastic tables filled with plants.

"There's nothing left of those," Mr. Brucker said.

In addition to destroying much of the greenhouse, the fire also destroyed a county van used by the greenhouse staff that was parked to the side.

Mr. Brucker said there was some fertilizer inside and around the outside of the building, but that it is not considered a factor in the blaze as it was mixed with large amounts of potting soil which would greatly reduce its combustibility.

Investigators are looking at the building's electrical system as a possible origin of the fire, he said.

He said another factor that could have led the fire to spread quickly is a fan system inside of the greenhouse that was programmed to turn on more fans as the temperature rose inside of the structure.

"Even a small fire could have been blown around with a fan and as it got hotter it's likely more fans came on and probably spread the fire more," said.

He said volunteer firefighters from the Library and Broughton fire companies responded to the blaze and had it under control by about 9 p.m.

Mr. Brucker said when firefighters arrived, "the fire was heavily involved" and that firefighters initially had trouble finding a water source. The hydrant at the scene was not operating properly and firefighters had to use a hydrant across the street.

In addition to examining the building's electrical system, Mr. Brucker said, footage from surveillance cameras also will be reviewed.


Mary Niederberger can be reached at mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1512.


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