Some residents were never warned of fire

June 5, 2008 7:01:15 PM PDT
The cause of last Wednesday night's huge chemical fire in Fairfield is still under investigation. Some neighbors want an investigation into why no one ever called them with the shelter in place order that was issued for the surrounding area.

The flames and thick black smoke could be seen for miles. Two tanker trucks and a container erupted in a huge inferno at the Ashland Chemical Distribution Center in Fairfield.

"They were loaded with several different substances. Ethyl Acetate, toluene, Xylene and Solvent 142," said Jerry Clark from the Fairfield Fire Department.

The combination created a fire too dangerous for arriving Fairfield crews to battle, even though their trucks do carry a small amount of foam. They have about 50 gallons of foam intended for use on chemical or fuel fires.

"If we would have gone in there last night, early on and just started throwing water onto the fire, that would have greatly exacerbated it because the materials that were burning actually floats on top of water," said Clark.

An hour after the fire began, two rigs from nearby Travis Air Force Base, known as crash trucks, arrived each carrying as much as 500 gallons of retardant foam. They, along with another rig from the Valero Refinery put out the fire.

Ashland is a distribution facility, not a chemical plant and does not have its own firefighting capability.

All businesses within a quarter mile were evacuated.

Residents within one mile were supposed to receive a recorded phone message telling them to close their doors and windows.

While investigators look for the cause of this fire, some nearby residents wonder why they never received the call to shelter in place.

"The smoke was coming like straight down," said Veronica Lopez, a Fairfield neighbor.

Lopez's back fence faces the fire area. Her phone never rang.

"I wasn't contacted by anybody, no police department or fire department or anybody," said Lopez.

A fire official told ABC7, the reverse 911 system used in emergencies is relatively new and far from foolproof. In the best case scenario, 80 percent of affected residences might receive a call.


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