A raging fire that broke out in a commercial building in Fountain Valley on Friday night threatened, but never reached, drums of materials that would have produced highly toxic fumes, officials said Saturday.
"We thought the fire had reached some 55-gallon drums with some highly toxic materials in a business just north of where the fire broke out," Fountain Valley Fire Department Battalion Chief John Bolstad said. "But about four hours into the fire, we were able to discover that the drums had not been affected. We were very, very fortunate."
The fire broke out at the A-1 Apartment Supply Co., 18430 Bandilier Circle, just west of the Santa Ana River and a block south of the San Diego Freeway.
It was contained to the one single-story, concrete structure but spread beyond the supply company business to the Sancon Engineering and ISC Electronics.
A wall was destroyed within the engineering company, but the only other damage to the engineering and electronics businesses was caused by smoke and water, Bolstad said.
No one was injured in the blaze. Only a few people were even in the area when the fire broke out about 8:35 p.m. Total damage to the three businesses was estimated at about $600,000.
The fire drew fire units from Fountain Valley, Huntington Beach, Anaheim and the Orange County Fire Department. The county Fire Department's hazardous materials team was also at the scene trying to locate the toxic materials.
Bolstad described the materials in the Sancon Engineering drums as carcinogenic chemicals used in coating water pipes. The chemical, toluene diisocyanate, becomes toxic only under intense heat, he said.
If the drums had exploded, Bolstad said, "we would still be there now (Saturday night) trying to clean everything up."
A few small businesses in the area were evacuated, but most businesses already were closed. Firefighters stayed at the scene throughout the night, and it was not until late Saturday afternoon that smolderings from the fire finally died out.
Investigators at the scene were busy all day Saturday trying to determine the fire's cause. Bolstad said firefighters knew for sure only that the fire originated in the apartment supply company section of the building.