Hundreds of Newport Beach residents spent the week in hotels or in friends' homes, as crews worked to remove thousands of gallons of dangerous chemicals spilled when fire gutted a nearby metal-finishing plant.
About 500 people were evacuated from the area around Hixson Metal Finishing on Production Place, where the fire last Sunday morning released a cloud that officials feared might contain toxic cyanide fumes. Tests later showed that there were no cyanide fumes outside, but health officials said some may have been released inside the building.
The building's falling roof broke open containers, and the flames and water further mixed chemicals, complicating the cleanup job as hazardous materials
units tried to determine what potentially dangerous combinations they were handling.
Investigators found the inside of the plant "in total disarray," said Officer Kent Stoddard, a spokesman for the Newport Beach Police Department. "There are vats turned over. They will have to go in very slowly to get everything stabilized."
Nobody was in the building when the fire began, and no one was injured. The cause of the fire has not been determined.
Some of the evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes Sunday night and Monday. But about 200 people were kept from their homes until Thursday morning, as breakdowns of pumps and compressors slowed the cleanup job.
David Skipworth, who stayed in a different motel each night since the fire, said he was getting "a little weary" of the evacuation.
"I don't think anybody going into it realized how serious it was," Skipworth said.
Khosrow Alizadeh was upset that he had to pay for motel rooms for his family out of his own pocket each night, and he complained that the city should not allow potentially dangerous plants so close to residential areas.
"The pressure of the fire--we could feel it on our face," Alizadeh said. "We could see the flame."
Company owner Robert Hixson said he had permits for all the substances housed at his company and, in fact, had spent $40,000 in recent months to make the plant safer. The firm may wind up having to pay firefighting and cleanup costs if there is evidence that the company was negligent.