Fire damages downtown business

Clovis firefighters battled a blaze Saturday at 120 Connelly for about two hours after semi trailers and packing crates caught fire in the yard next to Moberly Moving and Storage. CNJ photo by Eric Kluth.

By Darrell Todd Maurina

A fire fueled by wooden packing crates swept through a storage area of a downtown moving company Saturday, keeping 15 firefighters and four engines busy for more than two hours.

Capt. Karen Burns of the Clovis Fire Department said the damage to trailers and the storage yard at Moberly Moving and Storage on Connelly Street will be severe.
“I wouldn’t even start to guess, but it’s big dollars,” Burns said.

A 14-year-old boy from Portales who was visiting Clovis for the weekend with his mother reported the fire about 6:45 p.m., Burns said.

“We were walking from (a friend’s) apartment to the park, and I said, ‘That doesn’t look right,’” said Jason Cekander. “I saw the fire start to spread and said, ‘We need to call 911.’”
Once the fire got under way, the thick black smoke rising over the city alarmed not only casual observers but also firefighters.

“I got the word that the whole south part of Clovis was burning even before my pager went off,” Burns said.

When firefighters arrived at 120 Connelly they found semi trailers and packing crates blazing in the yard next to Moberly Moving and Storage. The blaze had nearly reached the cabs of two semi trucks and was about to engulf several pickups in the storage yard. Firefighters located the keys to the pickups and moved them out of the yard. They also moved the tractors after disconnecting them from the trailers, and drove a fire-damaged flatbed trailer out of the yard.

Burns said saving the vehicles wouldn’t have been possible without the early warning via 911 and will consider him for a departmental award after investigating the situation. Due to the isolated location of the business, Burns said that if Cekander hadn’t been walking by, the fire might not have been noticed for some time until the black smoke plume that developed later was noticed by people elsewhere in the city.

Burns said determining the cause of the blaze will have to wait for the insurance and fire investigators to do a joint review of the damage, but considered the blaze suspicious because there would be no ignition source in the yard.

“Fires like this don’t just start out of thin air,” Burns said. “We don’t have a cause on this, but we want to talk with Terry Moberly, the owner, about possibly transients, homeless people, or kids coming in there.”

Burns said somewhere between 200 and 300 packing and shipping crates were consumed by the fire. The yard had packing crates stacked several stories high, with seven rows of 25 to 30 crates each. That arrangement made it easy for the fire to spread and difficult to put out, Burns said.
While the crates were empty or in some cases contained smaller boxes that were themselves empty, Burns said shipping crates are expensive and an essential part of a trucking business.

“The boxes are valuable because they are what a moving company uses to move people out of their homes,” Burns said.

Moberly said he’s owned the business since 1976 but has never had a major fire before.

“These shipping crates are kind of a necessary evil,” Moberly said. “They are wood, but we have to use them in our business to ship goods overseas for the military. We keep them in a separate yard away from the main warehouse and keep the weeds down and have a fence up to keep just anyone from getting in.”

Moberly said Cekander deserves credit for possibly saving his business.

“What he did probably minimized our damage and prevented the fire from growing to the point that it spread to our warehouse and adjoining residences,” Moberly said.