The chemical fire that forced the evacuation of 1,500 Saticoy residents this week was only the latest sign of problems at Pacific Intermediates, a company that mixes compounds for the pharmaceutical industry.
Last July, a Ventura County Fire Department inspector was literally hit in the face with evidence that all was not as it should be at the plant just east of Ventura.
"One minute it was clear," said former inspector Ken Bates, who now is a firefighter, "and the next, it was a cloud."
Inspecting three 55-gallon plastic drums containing thionyl chloride, which turns to corrosive hydrochloric acid when exposed to air, Bates and county building inspector Ian Brodie suddenly were engulfed in toxic vapors.
He and Brodie were treated at the Ventura County Medical Center, and 20 other fire officials who had contact with them were ordered to shower and change their clothes. Businesses in Pacific Intermediates' industrial park were evacuated.
The company was later served a citation for the incident, which stemmed from improper storage of barrels outdoors, according to fire officials.
In addition last year, Ventura County Environmental Health Department officials sent several written notices requiring the firm to correct problems connected to the production and disposal of chemical waste.
When neither agency received a satisfactory response, the matter was referred to the Ventura County district attorney's office, which opened an investigation in December, deputy district attorney Marcia W. Strickland said.
A warrant to search the plant was prepared just last week, but had yet to be sent to a judge for approval, she said.
"We wrote it, and the business burned down," Strickland said.
The company is owned by Benjamin L. Adams of Newbury Park, who could not be reached for comment.