Brownberry Bread Fires

It’s easy to imagine the smell of warm, freshly baked bread wafting from the ovens of a Brownberry factory. This pleasant scenario, however, was not the one that unfolded during the morning hours of October 13, 1980. Beginning during the predawn hours, flames rapidly engulfed the confines of the brick Brownberry warehouse, causing $300,000–$500,000 in damage. While those figures were provided by fire officials, corporate officials put the pyre’s price tag at nearly $4 million. No word on whether that figure included the loss of ten thousand cases of croutons and stuffing.

It can be surmised that the cardboard and crouton kindling only served to exacerbate things. The one-story building and the fire that it fueled would require more than five hours of assistance by sixty-seven fire responders from Twinsburg, as well as Hudson, Macedonia, and Northfield Center Township. Per the Plain Dealer, “No one was hurt . . . but two Twinsburg fireman were covered with lard when a lard tank exploded.” Betty Tomko, the first female firefighter, worked a hose line at the fire. Luckily, no one was injured. {Courtesy of the Twinsburg Bulletin} 66. Three Communities, One Heritage stated, “When they turned the water on, it just wiped us all over the blacktop, because lard had melted inside the facility that they used for the bread.” It made those using the hose slip and slide uncontrollably. The fight could have taken much longer had the fire spread to the offices, but a functioning sprinkler system and interior brick wall held the flames at bay.

After a strenuous day battling the Brownberry blaze, firefighters would respond to an eerily similar call when the second of two warehouses operated by the bread company caught fire just a street away. Although smaller and less destructive, the fire at the warehouse suggested something more sinister was going on. A year and a half earlier, in February 1979, another fire caused more than $60,000 in damage to the Brownberry store in Bedford Heights. The Plain Dealer reported the fire’s origins as “suspicious” in nature. When taken as a whole—three fires in two years—the coincidences become too strong to ignore, suggesting something nefarious was at work. In the end, no one was ever arrested in connection with these events.

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