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Richmond deputy fire chief Emon Usher surveys the remnants of a fire that engulfed about 40 salvaged cars at Deal Auto Wrecking on Gertrude Avenue in North Richmond this morning. Photo by Catherine Schuknecht.

North Richmond scrap yard fire contained, but cause still unknown

on December 16, 2016

A fire engulfed about 40 salvaged cars at Deal Auto Wrecking on Gertrude Avenue in North Richmond this morning, according to Richmond deputy fire chief Emon Usher. No structures were compromised.

The fire began just after 7 a.m. Twenty-six firefighters from the Richmond, Contra Costa and Chevron fire departments responded to the scene. Around 10 a.m., Usher said the junkyard fire was under control, with only a few cars still burning. The Richmond Fire Department issued an “all clear” at 10:45 a.m., advising residents to “resume normal activities,” according to the county’s Community Warning System.

At 12:36 p.m., the Contra Costa County Health Officer issued a second alert through the warning system. Although the fire had been extinguished, “smoke and odors may continue to come from the area,” the message said, putting residents with preexisting respiratory conditions at risk.

Prior to the all clear notice, a “shelter in place” had been issued for high schools and residents living in surrounding areas, encouraging residents to stay indoors and follow safety protocols, including turning off all heaters, air conditioners and fans.

Usher said the fire department had yet to receive any 911 calls or reports of air issues from residents in the surrounding areas. He said the county’s Hazardous Materials program was monitoring the smoke because it likely contains “poisonous gases” released from burning plastics and oils in the junked cars.

Usher said several agencies, including the coast guard, had also responded to assess the environmental damage from the fire.

The cause of the fire remains unknown, but Usher said investigations are underway.

“All fires are suspicious until proven otherwise,” he said.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said the fire, which occurred in North Richmond—an unincorporated area that is overseen by the county—didn’t fall under his jurisdiction.

“We’re cleaning up our junkyards,” said Butt, pointing to a recent cleanup at an illegal transfer station that the East Bay Times reported was also boarding 100 horses. But like Deal Auto Wrecking, the stable is also located in unincorporated North Richmond, according to the Times report.

“It’s not in Richmond, it’s not my problem,” said Butt.

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