Several workers were applying tar to the roof of a warehouse at 1311 Canal Boulevard near the Harbor Channel when the pot of boiling tar caught fire in a trailer on the ground around 9:50 a.m. Thursday, Banks said.
The fire appears to be purely accidental, Banks said.
"These things have a tendency, if they're not monitored, to overheat," he said. "When that happens, it'll bubble up and out of the pot, and that's what happened in this situation."
The blaze quickly torched the trailer the pot was sitting in, igniting the vehicle's tires and sending a plume of black smoke 50 feet in the air as the flames climbed the side of the warehouse, Banks said.
"It was quite visible," he said.
Four fire engines, a truck, and a battalion chief responded to the one-alarm fire, which was contained by 10:15 a.m., Banks said.
No one was injured in the fire.
There were no residences in close proximity to the warehouse, Banks said, and no other structures were threatened by the blaze.
The warehouse, which is owned by the city of Richmond's Port Department, was being used by an auto detailing company called Auto Warehousing as a place to store vehicles awaiting detailing, Banks said.
None of the cars were inside the warehouse during the fire, Banks said.
Fire officials estimated the fire caused a total of $200,000 worth of damage to the trailer and the corrugated metal siding of the warehouse, Banks said.