Using two fire extinguishers and water, H Mart employees first attempted to suppress the fire that broke out Saturday afternoon at the store but were unsuccessful, according to the Department of Public Safety yesterday.
Police officer Jason Tarkong said the fire spread rapidly, prompting employees to evacuate the building and call 911 for assistance. No one was injured.
A 911 operator sent police and fire units to H Mart, located along Middle Road in Chalan Laulau, at 2:55pm Saturday. Upon arriving at the scene, police and firefighters noticed that the northern side of the building was already engulfed in fire and that flames and heavy black smoke were already pouring out from the shattered glass windows of the building.
Fire investigators’ initial investigation showed that the blaze started in the general manager’s office on the second floor. No one was in the office at the time.
Tarkong said that employees were first alerted to the fire by the smoke alarm.
The control manager of H Mart told Saipan Tribune that they have eight employees but only three were inside the building when the blaze occurred.
Tarkong said the office structure was made of wood and contained numerous amounts of combustible materials, adding to the rapid spread of the blaze.
“The building is used as a general merchandise and storage area, which also contributed to the fire spread throughout the rest of the building,” he said.
He said several hundred cases of butane canisters were also in the building, causing several explosions and prompting fire investigators to close down Middle Road and divert the traffic flow to Beach Road.
The cause of the fire is still undetermined pending further investigation, Tarkong said.
Police officer Eric David, the unified command public information officer, told Saipan Tribune Sunday that the pressure at two nearby fire hydrants was very low so tankers had to leave to refill their water supply.
David said it also took time for the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. to reroute the water flow in order to utilize the two available fire hydrants at the scene.
The fire, reportedly the lengthiest structure blaze in the CNMI in the last two decades, caused an estimated over $1 million in damage to H Mart.