The sight of billowing smoke and massive flames is what many woke up to in Northwest Fresno Thursday. An estimated $3 million in utility poles burst into flames. When crews responded, they realized a reliable water supply was lacking, and the fire grew quickly.
"So we took a defensive stand," said Pete Martinez with the Fresno Fire Department. "We tried to keep it as small as possible. It initially started with 5 or 6 piles. Because of water supply issues we had on scene, the fire quickly grew to about 20."
Each pile contained anywhere from 20 to 100 poles. All of them made of wood and a composite of biodiesel and other preservatives that can and did burn intensely.
Martinez said, "We had other apparatus scouting the area surrounding making sure we didn't have any hot spots flying to any dry grass in the area."
A huge effort by crews -- to lay fire hose to pump water to the fire. The facility has its own hydrant system that's been inoperable for years, in fact, the Fresno Fire Department realized that while fighting another fire here in 2013. The Valley Air District also issued a health notice as smoke drifted into the South Valley counties.
Heather Heinks added, "The air on the ground in and around the fire was cool and as we know heat rises and so it sort of took it into the atmosphere which is why it traveled south."
The property houses McFarland Cascade which supplies power poles to utility companies across the west including PG&E.
Investigators are still working to determine the cause of the fire.
This is where PG&E and other utility companies buy their power poles. pic.twitter.com/rcJaVK9LlC— Fresno Fire PIO (@FresnoFire) April 30, 2015
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District released the following warning about the fire:
Air officials issue smoke health caution
Large industrial fire in Fresno affects central and southern Valley
Smoke from a large industrial fire in Fresno may periodically affect air quality in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and the valley portion of Kern counties until the fire is extinguished, local air officials said. The health caution is in place until the fire is extinguished.
Smoke from fires produces fine-particulate matter (PM2.5), which can cause serious health problems including lung disease, asthma attacks, and increased risk of heart attacks and stroke. Where conditions warrant, people with heart or lung disease should follow their doctors' advice for dealing with episodes of particulate exposure. Additionally, older adults and children should avoid prolonged exposure or heavy exertion, depending on their local conditions.