Stockton recycling center fire on W. Church Street, Oct. 3, 2013. Photo courtesy Stockton Fire Department
STOCKTON, CA - A south Stockton home was seriously damaged after flames from a recycling facility fire spread Thursday afternoon.
The fire started at Newark Recovery and Recycling in an industrial area on the 800 block of Church Street, roughly at Interstate 5 and Highway 4 (Crosstown Freeway) around 3:15 p.m. The windblown smoke could be seen from miles away in the Stockton area.
Stockton Fire Chief Jeff Piechura said the fire began in a pile of papers burning outside the plant just south of the Port of Stockton. The flames spread to other recyclables, including a pair of propane tanks that exploded. The explosion stunned several firefighters nearby.
"When they did erupt, it was quite an explosion. And sent a few guys looking around, not knowing what happened," Stockton Fire Department spokesperson Jeff Whitlock said.
Piechura said high winds spread embers and hot metal from the explosion, sparking fires along I-5.
The flames first spread to a lot where rail ties are stored, near I-5 and West Charter Way. The wind then carried the flames along the I-5 corridor, causing 18 spot fires, Piechura said.
The home near Fairmont Avenue and West Ivy Avenue was also set ablaze by the embers carried by strong winds. A garage, part of a different home, was destroyed in the fire.
No injuries were reported.
A statement from Newark Recycled Paperboard Solutions, the company owning the recycling facility, read, in part:
We take these incidents very seriously and are currently investigating the cause of the fire. We have so far determined that the employees at the scene followed standard operating procedurea and called the local fire company.
Newark Marketing Manager Suzanne Batchelor said they were still monitoring for signs of smouldering paper but the active fire was extinguished.
Southbound Interstate 5 was shut down for more than an hour as smoke made driving unsafe.
"The winds were spreading [the smoke] so quickly that we couldn't get a handle on it," Whitlock explained. "And then we had to pull our resources to go combat these smaller fires because they were gonna get larger if we didn't address them."
Around 5:30 p.m. ,Caltrans reopened all lanes and ramps at southbound I-5 at Highway 4 (Crosstown Freeway).
Red Flag warnings
The National Weather Service issued five Red Flags Warnings and Fire Weather Watches over the next few days due to gusty winds and low humidity.
Cal Fire spokesperson Daniel Berlant said the dry fuel near the end of the season sparks easily and burns furiously when fed by steady winds.
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The warnings are in effect for parts of northeastern California in Modoc and Lassen counties, the Sacramento Valley, the Bay Area, parts of Kern County and Southern California.
News10/KXTV and The Associated Press