Possible “toxic fumes” hovered over the skies of Dos Palos late Tuesday as a large fire burned for hours at a recently shuttered recycling center, authorities confirmed.
The fire at the Pacific Coast Recycling Center on Almond Street was first reported around 5:30 p.m. and was contained by firefighters around 9:10 p.m., said Barry Mann, police chief and city spokesman.
Flames shot 15 to 20-foot flames into the air and heavy, black smoke containing possibly noxious fumes hovered over South Dos Palos and moved slowly into rural areas of Merced County, officials said.
“We have about 150 tons of recyclable materials burning including an unknown substance in the air that (environmental health officials) are very concerned about,” Police Chief Barry Mann said. “We are asking people to shelter in their place for now, there’s a lot of bad stuff in the air.”
Other materials burned at the plant includes large amounts of plastic, rubber, wood and cardboard, officials said.
Mann said residents should plan to stay inside overnight.
No injuries were reported.
The cause of the fire was not immediately known. A damage estimate was not available Tuesday.
Mann confirmed the recycling center recently closed and owners were in the process of moving out. Mann said city officials believe the plant had been closed for at least 60 days, but said he was unsure the of the reason for the closure.
“There’s nothing to indicate this fire was suspicious, but we’ll obviously be looking into that possibility (Wednesday) morning,” Mann said.
Winds on Tuesday night were expected to blow from the north-west to the south-east in Dos Palos at about five to 10 mph, according to the Jeff Barlow, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.
Those winds blew the potentially noxious smoke over populated areas, including the Dos Palos Apartments on Highway 33.
Mann said most of the city would be affected by the smoke and fumes and should remain inside. “I’d say at least two-thirds of everybody in Dos Palos is affected right now,” Mann said.
Officials from the the county’s Environmental Health division were on scene to investigate, police said.
Inspectors were also called to help investigate from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
“We always advise people in these situations to stay inside and to run their air conditioners, if they can, to help circulate the air in their homes,” said Jamie Holt, the district’s chief communications officer.
Holt said district officials would work closely with firefighters to investigate the air quality issues.
Dozens of firefighters were on scene from Dos Palos, Calfire and Merced County. Law enforcement officials from Dos Palos and Merced County were also on scene, an official said.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482