A team of 53 firefighters quenched a thick burning blaze Saturday evening and saved most of the building that houses the METech Recycling Center.
The fire was called in at 4:13 p.m. and hundreds of spectators headed down to the site on 6200 Engle Way, on the east side of Highway 101, in the city’s south industrial district. The thick, black plume of smoke could be seen for miles all over town.
The blaze engulfed pallets of computers and electronic equipment kept outside the building in a 100-by-200-foot area and did only minor damage inside. Surprisingly, the high tech equipment caused no damage to the air or water, according to Gilroy Fire Division Chief Chris Weber.
The department phoned residents in the area Saturday to warn them to stay home in case there was hazardous material in the air, something Weber said could be dangerous to people with respiratory conditions or asthma.
“We did air monitoring and tested the water runoff. We used a whole lot of water and wanted to test it. The air was normal and the water had a ph of 5, the same as tomato juice.”
Firefighters are investigating the cause of the blaze. “There was no lightning, no power lines that dropped, no evidence of arson, no molotov cocktail,” said Weber. “I didn’t see any indication of homeless people that had a cooking fire. You can’t just make a guess. You have to know and be able to prove it scientifically.”
Firefighters from San Jose, Santa Clara County, Hollister and Morgan Hill helped out, and the blaze was put out in three hours. No one was hurt, said Weber. Some fire crept through the rolling doors into the building, but the automatic sprinkler system held it in check.
Weber said the electronic waste at the plant wasn’t much worse than a house fire, because so much of what’s in a house is plastic or derived from petroleum.
“It’s not like the old days when everything was made of cotton, jute and wood. Everything in a house now is made of plastic, the sofa, curtains, blinds. It burns really dirty. Any house fire produces the same amount of bad stuff that this fire produced.”
METech is an international recycler founded in Rhode Island in 1968 and based in Massachusetts. There is no damage estimate yet for the burned waste.