West Oakland (CA) Recycling Center Fire Injures Firefighter, Billows Smoke into Sky

A fire Saturday afternoon at a recycling center in West Oakland injured one firefighter, pumped huge clouds of dark smoke into the air and led to temporary power failures as a large crew worked into the evening to contain the flames.

Lauren Hepler

San Francisco Chronicle

(MCT)

Jun. 13—A fire Saturday afternoon at a recycling center in West Oakland injured one firefighter, pumped huge clouds of dark smoke into the air and led to temporary power failures as a large crew worked into the evening to contain the flames.

For neighbors long concerned about industrial pollution and what seems like a recent rise in other nearby fires, the blaze also revived nagging questions about what’s next for this fast-changing corner of the city.

“I’m not surprised this happened,” said Will Walker, a Google employee who moved to a home on 11th Street in 2018. “Complacency is kind of the enemy here. You have an area that was historically redlined, that was just given the short end of the stick.”

Saturday’s fire was first reported around 2 p.m. near California Waste Solutions, a facility that handles materials to be recycled, said Michael Hunt, chief of staff for the Oakland Fire Department. More than 50 firefighters arrived to battle the fire as it spread into hundreds of tightly compacted bales of plastic, cardboard and other materials.

“We have to pull each one outside, undo the bale, put it out,” said Robert Lipp, an assistant chief with the Oakland Fire Department. “It’s going to take a long time.”

A full investigation will determine the cause of the fire, but Lipp said it appears the blaze started on the property before consuming a large pile of recyclables and moving into surrounding buildings. Among the potential causes investigators will evaluate is whether any nearby homeless encampments may have sparked the fire, especially after another recent fire at a recycling plant in East Oakland that officials attributed to an encampment.

The firefighter injured in the blaze suffered minor to moderate injuries, Lipp said, and is expected to recover.

For much of Saturday afternoon, smoke could be seen from San Francisco and along Interstate 880. Traffic was also restricted around the site, but local store clerks and a nearby skate park forged ahead with their usual weekend routines as firefighters worked on the site around Pine Street between 10th and 11th streets.

Walker rushed out to film the commotion with a drone. Since moving to the neighborhood, he’s joined several community meetings to push the city to move ahead with a years-old plan to relocate the facility to a former Army base nearby. Residents and local environmental groups have complained about air quality, 18-wheelers plowing down small residential streets — and the risk of fires.

“There are neighbors down my street that have lived with this for decades, and I feel for them,” Walker said. “This is totally inappropriate zoning.”

California Waste Solutions could not immediately be reached for comment. The business is owned by the Duong family, who fled the Vietnam War before settling in San Francisco and starting the company that now provides recycling services to residential and business customers in the East Bay and the South Bay, according to a company website.

As the fire at the business continued to burn, fire crews planned to remain on site to address any unexpected complications.

“We just want to make sure that no hot spots are able to spark throughout the night,” Hunt said.

The wait left Walker time to ponder what seemed to him like a steady stream of other recent fires in the neighborhood: car fires under the freeway, a house down the street. Just last month in West Oakland, a large fire broke out at a warehouse occupied by an unpermitted marijuana-growing operation.

“There’s been a lot of fires this year,” Walker said. “It’s crazy.”

Lauren Hepler is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: lauren.hepler@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @LAHepler

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