Mary Torres watched part of her life burn into a smoldering heap Thursday night.
Torres, a punch press operator at Anaheim Foundry that was gutted by a chemical fire that caused about $11 million in damage, gathered with co-workers across the street this morning as investigators sifted through her workplace of 19 years.
"This is our home away from home," Torres said, her back to the plant at 800 E. Orangethorpe Ave., an office and retail complex dealing in recycled metals. "This is all I've been trained to do. I can't do anything else."
The fire, reported at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, put 150 employees out of work, said General Manager Dave Cato, who surveyed the scene this morning.
"It's going to be a hardship for a lot of people," Cato said.
Toxic Chemicals, Steel Walls
It took 65 firefighters about two hours to control the chemical blaze, Anaheim Fire Department Capt. Robert Hernandez said. One firefighter suffered heat exhaustion. No one was in the sprawling building when the fire started, Hernandez said, and no other injuries were reported.
Hernandez said it will be at least two days before investigators can venture into the rubble, which was still smoldering today. He said a variety of toxic chemicals and steel walls kept firefighters at bay.
"This type of building is very difficult to fight fires in," Hernandez said.
He said the fire started in the back of the building, located in an industrial area on the Anaheim-Fullerton border. Spot fires still were breaking out this morning.
Fifteen units from Anaheim, Fullerton, Orange and Orange County, including the hazardous materials team, responded to the blaze.
'Get This Back Together'
Cato, surveying the damage, said the plant will be rebuilt.
"Someday we will get this back together," he said.
Witnesses said the spectacular fire spread quickly, heating walls until they collapsed.
"Firefighters couldn't get in because there was steel everywhere," said John Kemp of Stanton, who watched the blaze.
"It was like entering a safe."
Cato said the plant housed a number of chemicals used to process used metals. "I have no idea what could have burned," he said.
The building's roof collapsed in the heat of the fire, Hernandez said. Today, rubble was strewn throughout the site. The fire had singed palm trees in front of the building.
"Complete destruction," Cato said, shaking his head.
Torres, who turns 55 Saturday, said she is determined to go back to work someday.
"This is very difficult," she said. "It's something you can't comprehend."
Other workers appeared stunned by the scene of destruction.
"The future doesn't look so good," worker Michela Duran said.