Chitose Fire

Thanks to Denny Mitzner and Ron Dakin


Operations Building well along with the fire. If this picture is in the early minutes of the fire then the Japanese firemen are probably from our local fire station where the fire engine would not start due to cold weather. They are however inside the fence that surrounds the building as seen in the before picture above. The Japanese fire engine from Chitose town took 30-45 minutes to get to the scene. The fire engine from the Chitose I compound near town slide into the ditch and didn't get to the scene until much later than the other engine.


Operations Building fire. I know there was windows in the building, but they were very well covered from within. I don't remember what was used to cover them but obviously it didn't take long to burn it off from the inside. I believe the MP's name is Grutkowski or something like that with ski.


This is the thermite devices which were made to destroy the classified comm center equip in case we had to leave it behind in an emergency. The rectangular, narrow canister setting to the right of the object far left with a handle in the upper left quarter of the picture is a surviving device case. We had these in Viet Nam setting on top of all of our filing cabinets. Last one out pulled all the pins. They do a good job don't they? They were actually in the back room of of the comm center where the maintenance of the equipment was done. It was an accident that caused the stack of devices to fall over. One or more of the pins broke and it was as if someone pulled the pin. No one knew that until the first one went off and started a chain reaction with the rest of them. Perhaps as many as a dozen devices. The hole in the cement floor was about two feet deep and four feet across where they lay on the floor. The major change brought a bought by this accident was that a little wooden weather tight storage shed outside in the compound was used to store the thermite devices at all stations following this fiasco.
My name is Ron Dakin and I was the Morse Trick Chief on the day shift when the fire occurred in the Operations Building on December 29, 1954.1 was sitting at my console at the front of the Morse room. The room was comprised of Morse operators on both sides of the room and the language group was in the rear on the left hand side.
Some of the guys on duty that day included Sgt.'s Richard Seidenspinner, Harold South and Glenn Ralston. At the end of the room were two large swinging doors that opened into a hallway. Across the hallway was the door to the Comm. Center where Sgt. Ayala and his men were working behind closed doors. The first thing I remember was looking up and seeing the door to the Comm. Center opening and Sgt. Ayala and his men were all trying to get through the door at one time. Behind them was a sheet of flames. It all happened so fast, I can only remember people running all over the place, looking for fire extinguishers and trying to battle the fire from the hallway. It was a losing battle, the flames spread so quickly we had to evacuate the area and eventually the building.
As the fire swept over the Operations building, fire trucks from the Japanese fire department and from the Air Force fire department stationed at Chitose I, began to arrive. They were immediately informed that they could not enter the compound for obvious security reasons. The fire fighting would be left up to those of us who had security clearances. Sgt. Pete Reganato who was off that day remembers getting out of the shower in his Quonsett hut and seeing a large plume of black smoke coming from the direction of the Operations building. Someone ran into his barracks and informed everyone to report to the orderly room to help fight the fire. Our fire engine would not start due to the extreme cold and we had to build a fire around the fire hydrant to get the water to flow. Fire hoses were hooked up and we went into the compound and began to fight the fire. It was bitterly cold, snow was up to our knees and the water dripping from the hoses saturated our clothes and turned to ice. Several senior NCO's including SFC's Eccelston (Tiny as we called him), Kapps, and MSGT. Howard were directing our efforts. It soon became apparent that there was no way we were going to save the building.
Because of the severe cold, along with the water that accumulated and froze on our clothing, we were rotated back to the mess hall from time to time where we were supplied with dry OG's and waterproof field pants. The mess sergeant, SFC Sargent and his chief cook Sgt Shorty Richardson had prepared several vats of hot soup, which we were only too happy to get.
There was no way to save the building and we spent the next few days out in the field around the Operations building, picking papers out of the snow.
On New Years Day, January 1, 1955 we were loaded onto Globemasters at Chitose I and flown to Kamiseya Naval Base near Yokohama, where we would spend the next several months until a new Operations building could be constructed.
The time at Kamiseya was highlighted by the great Navy chow. It was hard to imagine how well the Navy fed their troops where steak and eggs for Sunday brunch was not uncommon.
The cause of the fire was determined to have been caused when one of the men in the Comm. Center, SP3 Ott, accidentally kicked a box of thermite grenades stored there for the purpose of destroying equipment in the event of an emergency. A request by our CO, Major Ben McKibben, to replace tbe outdated thermite grenades had been ignored. However, his replacement in August of 1954, Maj. John T. Horton, was relieved of duty as CO due to the accident and resulting fire.
Finally a new Operations building was constructed and we were finally going back to Chitose. It was like a homecoming when we arrived. The troops that stayed behind greeted us like long lost friends and many a celebration went on in the EM and NCO clubs.
(I, Jim Brock, would have been on duty that day except for the fact that I was in Tokyo on R&R along with Jim Striplin. We had reported in to Oji Camp, HQ ASAPAC, on TDY and signed out on a 7 day leave, at the end of which we signed into Oji Camp and awaited transportation back to Chitose on TDY status. Great Deal !!!. While on leave a friend of mine who was stationed at Oji Camp met us one night at the R & R hotel and told us that Chitose had burned. That was all he knew. His recommendation was that we not return to Oji Camp until our leave was up, because they might send us back early. We didn't, needless to say.
However, we did worry about the loss of our personal effects in the fire when 8612 DU burned. When we arrived back at Chitose we found of course that only the Ops Bldg burned. We had the extreme pleasure of cleaning up the mess. The building was 80% destroyed. The water that was poured on it pooled in the building and froze solid. Paper was through out the ice and the equipment had ice all through it. We took the equipment out and a bulldozer dug a large hole out by the ball field and we buried everything of metal in it, after hammering it totally useless and unrecognizable. We cleaned all the classified paper out of the ice and burned it. I had the job of running a jack hammer for the duration of the job. Finally we dug a foundation for the new building. It was another Quonset that coupled up with the one shown in the left side of the compound. The ground around the building had thawed due to the fire and the water that was poured over the building that did not remain in the building soaked into the ground around it. The bulldozer that was used to dig the foundation only bounced the blade off the frozen ground. I ran the jackhammer to cut the granite like soil so that the dozer could get a start into the ground. Finally we got it done.
I reported to Kamiseya in mid January and stayed until ordered out to do the site survey for a new station on Kyushu, to become FS Hakata.
Please send me any remembrances you have of the fire and the period around that time. We will add them to these notes.
Thanks to Ron for his input.)

 

 

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