RICHMOND — An explosion and fire rocked a plastics recycling center Thursday morning, killing one worker, injuring several others and forcing 12 nearby schools to cancel classes.
The two-alarm fire began about 2 a.m. at MBA Polymers, Inc., a research and commercial recycling operation. Witnesses say they heard two loud explosions at the scene.
Jeremiah Spritz, 26, of Richmond was killed, Jim Fajardo of the Richmond Fire Department said. Four other workers
were treated for smoke inhalation
and were reported in stable
condition. Spritz, whose relatives say he had only been working at the company for five months, was found about 60 feet inside the warehouse where the explosions occurred.
The cause of the explosions has not been determined. The fire was contained at about 8 a.m., but destroyed the company’s entire center warehouse.
Firefighters said they had a difficult time fighting the blaze because of the toxic fumes emitted and the tangle of pipes and uneven flooring in the warehouse. The structure is one of three located behind an office area in the 500 block of West Ohio Avenue.
One firefighter reportedly described it as “trying to climb through
a jungle gym.”
A fire engine from Chevron was called to assist, bringing with it thousands of gallons of foam to suffocate the fire. Water only cools it down, while foam can actually extinguish the flames. Regular fire trucks normally carry about 10 to 20 gallons of foam.
People living near the plant were told to stay indoors and keep windows closed until 1 p.m. Smoke from the fire contained the chemical polystyrene, which can cause respiratory problems, Fajardo said.
Richmond Fire Chief Jim Fajardo said the Ford plant at 700 National Court was evacuated and employees at other nearby offices and residences were advised to shelter in place to avoid the toxic fumes. Tollboth operators were told to go inside where there was air conditioning and people crossed the Richmond Bridge without paying the toll.
Students were sheltered in schools and their parents were notified.
Some 4,800 students were affected at schools in Richmond, San Pablo, North Richmond and Point Richmond. The schools were Peres Elementary, Chavez Elementary, Coronado Elementary, Dover Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, Washington Elementary, Nystrom Elementary, Verde Elementary, Harbour Way Academy and Gompers Continuation High, North Campus Continuation High, and the Transition Learning Center.
All schools will reopen Friday, a West Contra Costa Unified School District spokesman said.
Kaiser Permanente’s Richmond hospital reported it had treated dozens of people for respiratory complications related to the plant fire. “We’ve treated about 50 people here today,” said Cynthia Gregory, spokesperson for the Richmond Kaiser.
Patients generally complained of chest pains or shortness of breath, she said. All were treated and released. Three employees from the plastics plant also were treated at the hospital and released.
Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo reported it had treated 30 people for ailments as well. Spokesman Andy Williams said none of the injuries was serious, and all patients were treated and released.