CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Officials with the Linn County Public Health Department say air quality on the southwest side of town should not be impacted now that responders have controlled a fire that broke out along 41st street this morning.
Firefighters responded to reports of a large fire with thick, black smoke at CC Recycling, formerly known as K’s Acres at 11:26 a.m.
The facility, located at 400 41st Avenue Drive SW, processes scrap metal and has many used cars on site as part of that process.
Public Safety spokesperson Greg Buelow said the fire broke out when a male employee in his 40s was in the process of draining a scrap vehicle of gasoline. Buelow said the gasoline leaked on to the ground where it was ignited by a spark by a nearby forklift.
He said the employee sustained some burn injuries and was taken to the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics in Iowa City. He did not have an update on the man’s condition or the severity of his injuries, but said the man’s family has been notified.
Though first responders reported a fire with large flames when they arrived on scene, Buelow said the fire was 95 percent contained as of 12:45 p.m.
He said 41st Avenue Drive SW was the only street closed while firefighters were on the scene, but that traffic jams developed around the building as a result of people driving into the area to check out the fire. He also said dispatch told him they were overwhelmed with calls about the fire that produced a plume of thick, black smoke over Cedar Rapids.
“The fire definitely looked impressive and the firefighters stayed on task and kept it contained to the area where the employee was draining the gas,” Buelow said.
He said that smoke likely came from tires burning in the fire, and that the Linn County Public Health Department was on scene to monitor air quality as firefighters worked to put it out.
“It’s going to take a little bit of work now to go through the debris to make sure that any gas tanks with burning oil or gasoline are completely extinguished,” Buelow said. “So far we know that there were tanks full of gas and some oil that was burning as well as the scrap metal on some of the vehicles and some used tires.”
A Cedar Rapids man and his sons said they saw the fire break out.
Ali Herz, 49, was picking up an alternator with his sons, Hessen, 16, and Ammar, 13, when he heard “a big explosion.” Ali said a loudspeaker ordered everyone into the office. Herz said he ran to his car, where his sons were waiting and taking video of the blaze.
What followed was “explosion after explosion,” Ali said.
“So many of them,” Ali said. “They just kept going.”
Ali said he also witnessed a “big, huge, massive fireball” launch into the air.
Though there is always an explosion risk with fires, Buelow said the department was not concerned about an explosion midday because everything was covered with water and the fire was contained.
Though scrap metal, oil and tires were damaged in the fire, Buelow said there was no structural damage to any buildings on the site. An estimate of damages was not immediately available..
Shane Dodge, air quality supervisor with Linn County Public Health, said air quality concerns stemmed from smoke being released into the air during the fire, and there shouldn’t be concerns about air quality related to the fire once it is out.
“When it ignited it was a pretty hot plume, it rose well above the city and then it started to disperse because it was so hot,” Dodge said. “When they started to hit it with water it brought the plume closer to the ground, and that’s when folks can get exposed, so that’s what we were concerned about.”
Dodge said it seemed that the biggest impact was to the Jones Golf Course, 2901 Fruitland Boulevard SW, which was closed. He added that the department spoke with people north of the golf course who did detect an odor early on, but didn’t smell anything once the fire was contained.
“The smoke was kind of lingering down in the prairie creek valley there and not really exposing folks to the plume,” he said.
When heavy, possibly toxic smoke and odors are produced by a fire, Buelow said those concerned should find a place where they can get away from the smoke or ordors.
“If someone is concerned about smoke or air quality the best thing that we can offer is to shelter in place,” Buelow said. “In other words, go in your home and keep your windows closed so the smoke doesn’t go in there.”
Gazette reporter Lee Hermiston contributed to this report.