Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on July 2, 2018.


The day the Atlanta Braves’ stadium burst into flames


It was the summer of 1993. The Atlanta Braves were coming off of a World Series appearance the season before, and on July 18 they acquired all-star first baseman Fred McGriff in a trade with the San Diego Padres. But two days later, on the night of McGriff’s first game on the Braves’ home field at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, something else took center stage.

About an hour and a half before game time, an unattended food heating device that had an open flame sparked a fire in a luxury box and quickly spread to six other boxes and nearby stands. “A spark became a flame and quickly became a roaring blaze,” a CNN anchor said at the time. “Batting practice actually continued while flames licked upwards from the blazing box and black smoke billowed out.” Fans who had arrived early were evacuated, and eventually, players on the field diverted their attention from practicing to the fire. It took firefighters almost 30 minutes to reach the flames because there was no stairwell leading directly to the boxes, according to CNN.

The game was played two hours late and for a slightly smaller crowd, since the fire left about 10,000 of the stadium’s more than 50,000 seats unusable. “I’ve been rained out, I’ve been snowed out … but not fired out of a ball game,” Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck remarked to CNN about the peculiar incident. No one was injured.

A week after the fire, officials from the Atlanta Fire Department met with stadium officials and recommended they make a number of changes, such as installing standpipes according to NFPA 14, Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems, and protecting all enclosed areas with automatic sprinklers.

A 1994 article in Fire Engineering magazine said the incident shed light on safety concerns at the dated facility. “Constructed in 1956, before the city adopted codes mandating that stadiums be sprinklered, the stadium has no standpipes and only partial automatic sprinkler system protection,” the article reported. “In addition, the fire department’s ability to fight a fire in the stadium is hampered by the fact that there are no stairwells. Consequently, firefighters must hand-carry the hoses to the fire floor by ramps.”

Fire Engineering also reported that stadium officials did not make any of the changes the fire department recommended, knowing that the stadium would be closing in a few years. Instead, additional fire extinguishers were installed, fire-resistant material was used in the reconstruction of the boxes, emergency procedures were updated, and open-flame cooking devices were required to be constantly attended.

Fulton County Stadium closed in 1996 and was demolished the following year.

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top Photograph: Getty Images