Fire chars laundry service, workers escape unharmed

Rags outside an industrial cleaning service burst into flames and built into a large blaze in south Odessa that charred the exterior of the business but left nobody injured.

The fire was reported at 12:53 p.m. Saturday at AmeriPride Services, 1201 S. Jackson Ave. The company dry cleans for businesses such as restaurants and industrial companies.

The rags outside the building had been covered in flammable cleaning solvent and grime by clients, Assistant Fire Marshal Al Mata. AmeriPride workers left the rags outside to dry them before cleaning them, but the rags self-combusted because of the heat and cross-breeze.

"Because of the danger, that's the reason they store them outside," he said. "Because of the high probability that could happen, and it happened."

Such irritants are common in the industry, Mata said, so businesses take caution to prevent fires.

Mata said a pipe above the rags at AmeriPride emitted a mist to keep the rags cool, but that system wasn't enough. AmeriPride will have to build a canopy in the area with a dryer and sprinkler system.

The fire was considered and accident, and no charges or citations would be filed.

An employee saw the fire start through a window of the business and called 9-11, Mata said. The fire scorched the side of the business, but a sprinkler system inside contained the flames. Six employees were working at the laundry service on Saturday and escaped, Mata said.

The fire department sent two engines, a ladder truck and a tanker.

Across the street, Mary O. Martinez saw the fire as she prepared for a yard sale with her husband.

"There were a lot of flames. Too many. It was scary," she said. "I feel sorry for all the employees who work here. I hope they aren't out of jobs."

Mata allayed those fears: The exterior of the loading area was damaged, but the interior of the building remained usable.

Mata said he heard from a worker that there had been small fires in the rags before, which they extinguished without trouble and never reported, as they should have been.

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