UPDATE: Bowling Green downtown fire remains under investigation

Published 4:19 pm Wednesday, March 27, 2024

By Justin Story, Bowling Green Daily News

City firefighters remained overnight at the site of a fire at Valor Oil that disrupted traffic across large sections of downtown Wednesday afternoon and caused the evacuation of nearby buildings.

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire at the Raven Avenue business.

According to the Bowling Green Fire Department, two Valor employees were evaluated at the scene but declined transport to a hospital.

“I know we had crews out there all night,” BGFD spokeswoman Katie McKee said Thursday. “They rotated and did couple-hour shifts all through the night.”

McKee said Thursday morning in a text message that BGFD has cleared the scene and handed any further responsibilities over to the company.

The investigation into how the fire started is ongoing.

BGFD Station 5 Capt. Chase McKee said in a text message that city firefighters are helped by their training on what sort of chemicals or fuels might be stored at a place that can present a hazard in the event of a fire, and their training also helps when it comes to assigning responsibilities and coordinating efforts during an emergency.

“This helps the command staff have to worry about less, which makes it easier for them to make more important decisions and not have to micromanage,” McKee said. “Through our training, we have also been able to see how good communication can help everyone know what’s going on, making it easier to make informed decisions.”

A thick dark column of smoke could be seen for miles outside the downtown area and the heavy flames and smoke were also visible on radar, according to a post on x.com, formerly Twitter, on the account of meteorologist wxornotBG.

Valor Oil is located a block behind St. Joseph Catholic Church and St. Joseph Interparochial School, where school had just let out for the day when the fire occurred.

The Rev. Corey Bruns of St. Joseph Catholic Church said he was hearing a confession from someone in a confessional booth Wednesday afternoon when he heard a “big boom.”

Soon afterward, the Rev. Ryan Harpole, pastor at St. Joseph, filled Bruns in on what was happening and urged people in the church and anyone left in the school building to evacuate.

“I got the person I was with to their car, and everyone else in the chapel we worked on getting them over across the street,” Bruns said.

Bruns said some students were there for an after-school soccer program, and the school’s maintenance director worked with teachers to move the students across the street to the parking lot in front of the church.

Bruns was able to capture a short video clip of a fireball rising from the site.

“I was some distance away at the parish office watching, big fireballs would go up and you could feel the heat,” Bruns said, adding that teachers there said they could feel the heat from the fire through the glass in their classrooms. “It felt like you were standing in front of a bonfire, but I was so far away from this and I still felt like I wanted to step back.”

Bruns said school was canceled Thursday at St. Joseph.

BGFD was dispatched at 3:27 p.m. Wednesday to Valor Oil, with about 40 personnel on scene from all stations.

A Hazardous Materials team from BGFD worked to contain fuel runoff in the area, work that McKee described Wednesday as digging a “pond” to keep fuel from running into storm drains.

Bowling Green Mayor Todd Alcott commended the response from the fire department and several other agencies in a post Wednesday on his Facebook page.

Alcott said that the BGFD was joined at the scene by the Bowling Green Police Department, Bowling Green Public Works, Bowling Green Municipal Utilities, Warren County Emergency Management, Warren County Sheriff’s Office and several county volunteer firefighters, and that the work of the first responders kept the fire from reaching several gasoline tankers at the site.

“Today could have been a much different day, however the leadership, training and cooperation of our first responders saved lives, businesses and kept our community safe, and turned a tragedy into a triumph,” Alcott’s post said.

A post on Valor Oil’s Facebook page said that all employees “walked away safely” from the fire and that their phone lines remained open while the Raven Avenue location would be closed “for the next few days.”

“We want to apologize to our great neighbors and community for any inconvenience we may have caused,” the post on Valor Oil’s page said. “Also a special thank you to the first responders. They went above and beyond!”