West Oakland fire is recycling plant's fifth in eight years

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A huge fire on the Embarcadero in Oakland is under investigation on Monday. It happened Saturday at Schnitzer Steel, a recycling facility near the Port of Oakland.

The plant has had nearly a half-dozen fires since 2010, but none as big as this past weekend.

RELATED: Fire at West Oakland recycling facility puts out huge plume of smoke

The smoke could be seen for miles, a huge plume that sailed over the skies of West Oakland Saturday afternoon, all coming from the Schnitzer Steel recycling plant on the Embarcadero.

"Going back to 2010 there's been five incidents out here," said Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief Nick Luby. The plant has seen its share of fires in the past eight years, but most not as serious as this one

"One fire in eight years is too many fires from our perspective," said Adam Simons, a spokesman for Schnitzer Steel. "Again we're going through an internal investigation to determine root cause and have best practices in place, so that something like this does not occur again."

On Saturday afternoon, the smoke billowed for about an hour, before fire units from Oakland and agencies as far away as Moraga-Orinda came in to help, especially crucial since Oakland no longer has a fire boat of its own.

"We ended up calling in water tenders," said Luby. "We also used the fire boat from Alameda city and we were also able to get a type one fire boat in from San Francisco."

The Oakland Fire Dept. credits mutual aid with helping them knock down this fire quickly, but they said there was also a big challenge, that is the lack of available water, in the neighborhood.

"Water supply is a challenge out here," explained Luby. "We're down a dead end street. The water supply is limited. Schnitzer is in the process of upgrading their water supply. They're putting in a dedicated fire loop right now."

The thick black smoke was particularly alarming to residents of West Oakland. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has launched an investigation, although so far the district has received zero complaints from the public.

"Oddly it's not the steel," said BAAQMD Board Member Mark Ross. "It's the non-ferrous items that are in the cars, and all the other ancillary stuff and the paint that's on the steels. That's what produces the actual fumes and toxic brew that gets emitted into the atmosphere."

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

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