CLEVELAND (WJW) — Witnesses say it appeared an entire section of the East Bank of the Flats in downtown Cleveland was burning early Saturday morning, in a scene that some compared to a disaster movie.
Cleveland fire investigators say it was actually a small fire that started in a mulch bed, and strong winds caused the flames and embers to then spread to other mulch beds. The story began to unfold just after 2 a.m., when customers and employees leaving bars and restaurants on the East Bank, reported that no less than 20 mulch beds were on fire.
Pablo Calderon, an employee at Rum Runners, told FOX 8, “Every single tree mound was actually on fire, so it just struck me as strange, so I can’t really see it being an accident just because every single tree mound was actually on fire, so it was kind of nuts. It looked like solar flares off of the sun, just kind of coming off of the street.”
Videographer Drew Griffing was not sure what was he was witnessing after he got off work at nearby Forward Night Club, and he started shooting video as the strong winds whipped the flames and embers.
“I saw some smoke, saw some sparks, originally thought maybe it was car on fire, and then as I got closer, I saw one mulch bed and the wind was blowing all the sparks into the other mulch beds, you know chain reaction and it was reminiscent of a wild fire,” said Griffing.
Although some witnesses initially believed the fires were intentionally set, Cleveland fire investigators say it appears they were accidentally sparked by a cigarette that was carelessly discarded.
Cleveland Fire Spokesman Lt. Mike Norman told Fox 8 ,”You have a smoldering cigarette, and then mulch is a fuel, you know it’s wood chips, we’ve had a couple hot days, I’m sure that mulch got nice and dry, so that ignition source and that fuel, and then the wind, you know that wind driven fire, wind fuels that fire and that fire spread pretty quickly.”
Firefighters were able to put out the 20 separate fires relatively quickly, and no one was injured. Those who witnessed what happened in the Flats early Saturday say it’s something they won’t soon forget.
“The wind whipping the smoke and the sparks, you know, and the flames, and it was really chaotic and then of course 2:30 in the Flats,” said Griffing. “So everyone is adding to that chaos and just making it a little crazier, it was definitely a little bit disaster movieish, it had a little bit of disaster movie vibe to it.”
Fire officials say the unusual incident shows why it’s so important to make sure cigarettes are completely extinguished before disposing of them.