Workers at the former Pacific Coast Recycling plant in Dos Palos, CA, were in the process of emptying the defunct facility but were not able to finish the task before tragedy struck. The plant, that helped to recycle used cars, had been closed for two months and caught fire on October 13 of 2015, possibly releasing toxic chemicals and forcing area residents to stay indoors.
Believed to be accidental, the fire appears to have started when a spark from a piece of heavy equipment ignited cardboard while workers were cleaning the facility. A large amount of fire retardant was found at the scene, suggesting that the workers attempted to put the fire out themselves before contacting the fire department. Reported at 5:30 p.m. and put out at 9:00 p.m., the fire burned for almost four hours before firefighters were able to bring it under control. Clean up efforts lasted for several hours after the incident.
Area residents were asked to stay indoors as black smoke from the fire wafted over the town and headed into a rural area. The air quality warning was lifted at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning, approximately 14 hours after the fire started.
During the blaze, flames reached heights of 15 to 20 feet and potentially noxious fumes were released into the air as almost 150 tons of recyclable materials housed inside the building burned. Plastic, rubber, cardboard and wood were among the items waiting to be recycled that were engulfed in the fire.
Although there have been no reports of medical problems or emergencies as a result of the fire, it is possible that the recycling company will face liability issues due to air quality concerns. It has yet to be determined what sanctions, if any, will be imposed on the company, but the Merced County Environmental Health Division and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District are both investigating the incident.
The estimated amount of damage caused by the fire also remains undetermined at this time, and company officials have not made themselves available to comment on the fire or issued a statement of any kind.
The recycling center had been closed for approximately 60 days before the incident but it is unclear why. Before its closure, the plant provided numerous drop-off locations for recycling consumers and often picked up recyclable materials gathered by businesses and local organizations. They also maintained a scrap yard outlet where local consumer could buy certain materials at a discount and re-purpose them. The center, located about 50 miles northwest of Fresno, was created in an attempt to minimize the volume of items being sent directly to California landfills. The company does operate a second facility located in Gilroy, CA, which is still in operation.