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Chemical storage site burns

Chemical storage site burns

July 11, 1981: Firefighters send water onto flames at Marathon Cartage Co. in Santa Fe Springs.

A story by staff writer Kristina Lindgren in the July 12, 1981, Los Angeles Times reported:

A fire spread rapidly through a disputed chemical storage facility in suburban Santa Fe Springs early Saturday, detonating steel storage drums like lethal missiles and launching fireballs 150 feet into the night sky.

More than 120 firefighters from six agencies were summoned to fight the blaze, which erupted shortly before midnight and burned savagely until dawn through thousands of drums of chemicals. Officials said it may take another day before the fire is extinguished.

Eight firefighters were injured in the blaze, including two who were hospitalized. None of the injuries was believed to be serious. Surrounding residents at the storage site were evacuated because of the noxious fumes given off by the burning smorgasbord of chemicals, which include paint thinners and solvents.

“It was like a small atom bomb going off,” said Betty Wilson, the mayor of Santa Fe Springs. “We were fortunate that the fire was confined to that small area.”

The site, a triangular area surrounded by a chain link fence, contained more than 12,000 drums stacked up to six high on pallets. The site is part of an industrial area of Santa Fe Springs, and is near a steel mill and an oil refinery.

“Drums were popping and shooting up into the air a couple of hundred feet,” said Assistant City Manager Fred Latham. “The drums were flying around like missiles.”

Chunks of debris from the exploding drums landed on rooftops, lawns and cars parked in the surrounding residential area. One resident said the heat was so intense “you could feel the hairs on arms singe 500 feet away.” …

After the fire, the site was cleaned up by the Environmental Protection Agency.

This photo by staff photographer Rick Corrales was published in the July 16, 1981, Southeast Edition of the Los Angeles Times.

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