GENEVA — In what White Springs Fire Department Chief Tim Higgins called a “major incident,” a portion of the Geneva Walmart suffered significant damage early Wednesday afternoon, the result of a fire.
Higgins said his crews responded to the store at approximately 12:30 p.m. after an automatic fire-alarm activation to the Ontario County 911 Center. A Walmart employee also called 911 to report the fire.
Firefighters arrived to find thick smoke in a portion of the store. Higgins immediately requested a second alarm, bringing mutual aid from the Geneva, West Lake Road, Stanley and Oaks Corners fire departments.
“For us, it was a major incident,” he said.
Higgins said dozens of customers and employees were evacuating as firefighters arrived.
“We responded in three to four minutes from the time of dispatch. It was pretty hard trying to respond in here with everybody leaving, trying to get our apparatus in here,” he said. “We had everybody evacuate very quickly.”
Store employees gathered in the parking lot about 100 yards from the store. Two employees said they saw a “wall of smoke” before getting out.
Employees, some of whom waited outside for more than an hour with no coats, were later allowed into the building — away from the fire scene — to gather their belongings before going home. During the wait, some employees got into cars to get out of the cold.
Higgins said employees reported flames that reached the ceiling in a merchandise area on the west side of the store, which he said employees call the “celebration area,” including crafts. He added that while the sprinkler system knocked down most of the fire, his firefighters and others doused the rest of the flames.
“The sprinkler system did its job and started activating,” he said.
Higgins said there was heavy smoke and water damage to a portion of the building, which he estimated as one-tenth of the store. There was damage to the ceiling in the general area of the fire, and shelves and merchandise were damaged in several aisles.
“They will be closed for some time. It depends on code enforcement and the Department of Health,” Higgins said. “They are looking at a lot of cleanup inside.”
The Times contacted Walmart’s media relations department Wednesday afternoon for a statement on the fire and to attempt to learn when the store may reopen.
Corporation spokesperson Payton McCormick said the company has no statement at this time, and company officials are working with law enforcement and fire personnel to figure out how the fire started.
He said customers can monitor Walmart’s Facebook page to find out when the store will reopen, either partially or fully.
While Finger Lakes Ambulance was at the scene, Higgins said there were no injuries or smoke inhalation suffered by employees, customers, or firefighters. Firefighters did primary and secondary searches for people in the building, and found none.
Higgins said it was too early to determine a cause as of Wednesday.
“We’re looking into that now. It’s undetermined at this time and we’re investigating,” he said. “We are looking at video and getting some other stuff together, and will determine something pretty soon.”