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Wind spreads fire at Stockton recycling plant throughout town

Posted on by SST

Heavy winds in Stockton, Calif., have spread burning debris far from their source. At least 18 spot fires were reported up to 3 miles away from the recycling plant that caught fire on Thursday, Oct. 3.

Facility goes up in flames
At 2:50 p.m., firefighters received a call about a fire at the Newark Recovery and Recycling plant in west Stockton.  A yet-unknown source reportedly sparked a pile of paper on the north side of the facility. An abundance of dry fuel, including bales of paper, helped spread the fire quickly to other areas of the plant, reported ABC's local affiliate.

"It went from each stack of bales, to the next stack of bales, to the next stack of bales," said Matt Harris with the Stockton Fire Department.

Shortly after firefighters arrived, at around 3:30, two propane tanks on the facility premises became engulfed in flames. A resultant explosion spread the fire further, reportedly sending burning metal shards to a nearby rail yard where railroad links began to burn. The burning propane tanks produced dark clouds of smoke that could be seen from miles away. The smoke was so thick that officials recorded zero visibility at one point on nearby I-5 highway, Recordnet reports. The highway had to be closed between Highway 4 to Charter Way/Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Traffic was slowed for miles around.

Firefighters were able to prevent the explosion of a third tank by cooling its surroundings. But the large blaze coupled with gusts of wind as high as 40 miles per hour posed another threat to residents.

"The winds were spreading [the smoke] so quickly that we couldn't get a handle on it," explained Jeff Whitlock, Stockton FD spokesman. "And then we had to pull our resources to go combat these smaller fires because they were going to get larger if we didn't address them."

Fire spreads to residential areas
The high winds caught hold of burning debris and carried the fire miles away. Resident Cesar Flores watched embers pass over his neighborhood, Fox Sacramento affiliate reports.

"It's a very scary feeling to watch these fires with the debris to start these fires like this," said Flores.

Other families had to face spot fires head on. As two neighboring homes caught fire from debris, the Perez family discovered flames spreading to their property.

"We were all inside and my sister came in telling us there was fire coming over the fence," Yanette Perez explained. The family, having to act quickly, used hoses and buckets of water to defend their home. Managing to stop the fire, Perez was thankful to the neighbors who helped her.

One home was seriously damaged by the flames. A garage on a neighboring lot was destroyed.

In total, 18 spot fires were reported in a wide area surrounding the plant. The homes that caught, located in South Stockton, are 3 miles south of the recycling plant.

Putting out the flames
While flare-ups spread throughout the city, the large blazes continued to roar at the recycling plant and adjacent Burlington Northern Santa Fe rail yard. Fire suppression was handled throughout the night by firefighters from many departments. Streams of water were aimed at the blaze, but they had little effect on the strongest flames. Thick heaps of paper proved to be very strong sources of fuel. Firefighters found they needed to move layers of debris with bulldozers and confront flames head on.

By the following day, it was not reported if the blaze had been extinguished. The I-5 expressway did reopen once visibility returned. Despite the immense reach and ferocity of the blaze, no injuries have been reported.

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