Toxic warehouse fire 'not fully out yet', smoke advisories issued

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An explosive fire at a Maywood warehouse that took out power in the area and caused about 300 residents to evacuate their homes is "not fully out yet," authorities said Wednesday.
 
About 30 firefighters continued to battle the blaze early Wednesday, Robert Diaz of the Los Angeles County Fire Department told City News Service.
 
Evacuation orders remained in effect in the area, Diaz said. About 140 of the initial 300 residents evacuated have not yet returned home, with many taking shelter at the Maywood YMCA, news media sources reported. Most of the displaced residents are expected to be allowed to return home later Wednesday.
 
The three-alarm fire ripped through a pair of commercial buildings in Maywood early Tuesday, sparking a series of strong explosions and sending a thick plume of noxious smoke over the region, emanating from the 3700 block of
Fruitland Avenue, just a few miles east of the Long Beach (710) Freeway.
 
The fire was reported about 2:30 a.m. in a warehouse that serves Gemini Plastic Enterprises, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
 
County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said arriving crews found flames shooting through the roofs of two structures, one of which was a metal-recycling plant. 
 
Crews began pouring water on the flames, but the oxygen from the water created a chemical reaction with the burning magnesium, one of the metals being stored at the facility and awaiting recycling, producing what one fire official described as "fireballs" and setting off strong explosions.
 
"We had some very violent, ferocious explosions in the facility," Osby said Tuesday, adding that in addition to magnesium, other metals such as coppers, zinc and lead were present, along with chemicals and propane.
 
Firefighters immediately stopped pouring water on the burning metal, Deputy County Fire Chief John Tripp said Tuesday.
 
Osby said fire crews quickly went into a defensive mode, fighting the fire from the exterior, and were able to prevent the blaze from spreading from the two commercial structures that were destroyed to other businesses and nearby homes.
 
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department sent deputies from several sheriff's stations to the area, and about 300 residents were evacuated from homes and businesses as a precaution while authorities assessed air quality.
Traffic was routed away from the area. "The majority of the evacuations were mandatory (and) other residents
voluntarily evacuated to safety," according to the sheriff's department.
 
The blaze led more than 3,100 customers in the area to lose power at 2:45 a.m. Tuesday, and crews were sent to handle the problem, a Southern California Edison representative said.
 
Some of the area businesses get electrical service through a municipal utility, according to Tripp, who said firefighters intentionally ordered power to overhead lines to be cut for the safety of crews battling the fire.
 
A hazardous-materials team was sent to the scene, and officials from the South Coast Air Quality Management District were notified. The AQMD later issued a smoke advisory, saying odor from the plume of smoke was prompting complaints across the region.
 
Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey said reports of an acrid smell were coming in to authorities from all areas of the city. Humphrey urged residents not to call 911 to report the acrid smell, and
to limit such calls to situations in which people see smoke or flames from an active fire, or if they have a medical emergency.
 
AQMD officials said experts are taking measurements to assess possible toxic concerns. Residents were advised to avoid vigorous outdoor exercise in areas affected by the smoke, particularly in central, south-central and southeastern parts of the county. People with heart or respiratory disease, children and older adults were advised to remain indoors.
 
Tripp said the fire was producing gases Tuesday that were no more harmful than those from a run-of-the-mill building fire and there was no hazard outside the immediate area of the fire.
 
He recommended residents carefully brush off any material that settles on clothing or other such surfaces and to use soap and water to clean hard surfaces such as vehicles.

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