A spectacular fire that sent up plumes of smoke visible from all over Orange County caused an estimated $3.3 million in damage Tuesday to a Santa Ana manufacturer of waste treatment equipment and forced the evacuation of more than 500 workers at nearby factories.
No injuries were reported in the fire, which began inside J.L. Wingert Co. at 2158 S. Hathaway St. about 5:25 p.m., said Sharon Franks, a Santa Ana Fire Department spokeswoman.
Police rerouted commuter traffic around the industrial area near Warner and Grand avenues. About 35 firefighters battled the blaze.
Hazardous-materials teams were called in from Santa Ana and the Orange County Fire Department and the evacuation was ordered because "the potential for this being a (major) hazardous fire was very strong," Franks said.
She said fire officials were initially unsure of the type of chemicals stored inside the 16,000-square-foot building and feared that the intense flames could have spread to nearby firms with large inventories of hazardous chemicals.
Hazardous-materials teams were later released, however, after fire officials learned that non-hazardous chemicals made up most of what was kept in the building.
"We talked to the owner, and (a major hazard) didn't seem likely," Franks said at the scene.
Mike Clements, Wingert's general manager, said he immediately evacuated employees. They did not know where the fire had started. The company manufactures treatment equipment for hazardous waste, including coolers, sludge traps and water treatment mixers.
Workers in the surrounding area said they heard what sound
ed like an explosion before the fire started, but fire officials could not immediately confirm that, Franks said.
When the fire began, just five of the 35 employees on the shift were in the Wingert building.
Witnesses said an acrid odor, possibly from burning polyurethane tanks manufactured at the business, permeated the area.
Robert Traxel, who works about a block away from the destroyed building, said he saw spectacular flames light up the sky and leap at least 30 feet above the building's single-story roof.
Many witnesses also said the fire sent thick, black smoke skyward in a "chimney-like" plume.
Mark Cujak, who works nearby, described "tons of black smoke going upward, with large particles floating in the air and very heavy ashes."