It’s been almost a week since a fire burned a portion of the hardware section of Truitt & White at 642 Hearst St., but the area still smells of smoke.
The front door to the 71-year-old business is cordoned off with yellow caution tape and employees are now sitting at long tables turned into makeshift desks.
But the business is open and, in fact, never missed a beat after Wednesday night’s fire.
“I think it’s important to get the word out that we are still open for business,” said Dan White, chairman of the family-run business. “We want to make this the least disruptive as possible.”
How destructive and disruptive the fire will turn out to be is still unknown as investigators are still trying to determine the cause. White said it looks like flames – caused possibly by an electrical spark or short — broke out under a service counter in the paint section of the store around 11:15 p.m. The fire burned for a while and the smoke eventually triggered the fire sprinklers. Water poured into the room but, since the flames were under a desk, the sprinklers did not extinguish them, said White. But they did prevent the fire from spreading, which is a good thing because it was only a few feet away from cans of paint, turpentine, thinner and other flammable materials.
“It didn’t have much further to go before turning into an inferno,” said White. “That part was lucky.”
When the Berkeley Fire Department arrived, the entire building was filled with smoke, said White. Firefighters had to force their way inside, then quickly extinguished the flames. They used huge squeegees to push the water outside.
“We pretty much had a lake in here,” said White. The Fire Department “turned it into a creek flowing out the door.”
Assistant Berkeley Fire Chief Keith May said the fire, smoke and water damage is estimated to cost $50,000 to repair.
On Tuesday, Donald Perkins of Berkeley’s Fire Cause Analysis Co. was seated near the burned service counter, examining it closely for clues about where the fire started and why. One section of the counter was almost total char, which suggests the flames erupted at that end, said Perkins.
Since smoke filled the warehouse and has permeated everything, all the hardware might have to be sold to a salvage company, said White. Then the store must be repaired to remove the smoke smell, a process that could take as little as two to three months, or significantly longer, said White.
This is the first disaster in the company’s history, said White. His father, Robert White, and his World War II Navy buddy, George Truitt, founded the company in 1946. Truitt died in the 1970s and the Whites have been running the business since then. Dan’s brother, Warren, serves as the company’s president. Dan’s son and daughter, Brian and Katie, also work there, as do Warren’s sons Jake and Zack, making it a business run by three generations.
Truitt & White is one of the region’s major suppliers of wood, tools and fixtures to contractors, said White. The company’s lumberyard, hardware store, warehouse and showroom areas spread over 70,000 feet along both sides of Hearst Avenue, just west of the Fourth Street shopping district.