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Intense Fire Engulfs Factory

Emergency: Chemicals fuel flames at South Gate plastics manufacturer. No injuries are reported.

April 13, 2002|JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A huge chemical fire burned out of control Friday night, sending flames and smoke billowing hundreds of feet into the air near the Long Beach Freeway and quickly consuming an entire acre near a South Gate plastics factory, authorities said.

The fire started about 8:35 p.m. in plastic barrels at the White Metal Products Inc., at 10520 on Sessler Street near Imperial Highway. The flames appeared to be fueled by chemicals from residue of the petroleum-based products in the barrels, authorities said.

Many of the 55-gallon barrels exploded from the heat of the flames, Los Angeles County Fire Inspector Mike Brown said. Officials said they did not know how the fire started.

No injuries were reported and no residents in nearby neighborhoods had been evacuated as of 11 p.m., according to fire officials. Residents were told to stay in their homes and keep their windows closed.

The intensity of the three-alarm blaze sparked explosions, consumed several power lines and threatened a high-voltage line directly above the fire site, said Brown. It also knocked out power and water to much of the surrounding area and rendered fire hydrants useless. Firefighters relied on water in their tanker engines.

About 2,400 Southern California Edison customers in the South Bay area lost power for about an hour, said Tom Boyd, an Edison spokesman. About 400 customers in South Gate remained without power late Friday, he said.

The exploding oil drums and arcing power lines provided a hazard to firefighters, Capt. Brian Jordan said, but he added that the fire did not appear to be advancing on homes a few blocks away.

The explosions, which sent huge fireballs into the sky, could be heard every few minutes. Flames could be seen for several miles.

More than 140 firefighters battled the blaze.

"Flames were shooting up about 200 feet in the air," said Rafael Yera, 44, who lives about half a mile from the fire. Yera said he and his family heard several explosions and then began gathering their belongings in case they had to evacuate.

Lights flickered in their home, but they did not lose power, he said. He said he was concerned about the effect the smoke would have on his family.

"If it starts blowing closer to the ground we may have to go," Year said. "I've been outside watching and now I can feel it in my throat. It's a scratchy feeling."

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Staff writers Carol Chambers and Hector Becerra and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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