The cause of a fire Tuesday that possibly sent toxic smoke into the air above Dos Palos appears accidental, the city police chief said Wednesday.
The fire burned for more than four hours Tuesday night at the recently closed Pacific Coast Recycling Center on Almond Street. The fire was first reported around 5:30 p.m. and was contained shortly after 9 p.m. Mop-up efforts continued for several hours afterward. Authorities issued a warning to city and rural-area residents to remain indoors overnight. That warning was lifted around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
“We believe it was totally accidental,” police Chief Barry Mann said. “It appears some (plant) employees were cleaning the area and sparks from heavy equipment got into some cardboard and started burning.”
Mann said it appears company workers may have tried to put the fire out themselves “based on the amount of (fire) retardant found there” and did not immediately contact emergency officials. “When that failed, they called the firefighters and they put it out,” Mann said.
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Company officials did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
“There may be some possible liability issues for the company due to the air quality concerns, but nothing has been determined,” Mann said.
Officials with Merced County’s Environmental Health Division and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District continued their investigations Wednesday, authorities said.
“We received no reports of any medical emergencies related to this incident,” Mann said.
Flames of 15 to 20 feet shot into the air, and heavy, black smoke containing possibly noxious fumes hovered over the southern area of Dos Palos and moved slowly into rural areas of Merced County, officials said.
Authorities said nearly 150 tons of recyclable materials burned, including large amounts of plastic, rubber, wood and cardboard.
A damage estimate was unavailable Wednesday.
Mann confirmed the recycling center recently closed and the 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 of the reason for the closure.