Air quality in question after massive fire at Schnitzer Steel near Port of Oakland

A fire that erupted Wednesday night at a steel recycling plant near the Port of Oakland has raised concerns about air quality in the surrounding areas. 

The fire continued burning in a debris pile at Schnitzer Steel on Thursday morning, though firefighters have it contained. An air quality advisory also remained in effect for nearby communities. 

The fire, which began Wednesday about 5:30 p.m., led to massive plumes of smoke billowing from the facility throughout the East Bay. 

Fire boat crews have been drenching the fire with water. Officials said the source of the blaze, deep within a massive pile of steel, has been extremely tough to reach. 

Despite the pungent odor of the smoke and the haze it caused – even permeating through the KTVU newsroom – fire officials have been telling the public that there is no immediate threat to their safety.

Interim Chief Damon Covington of the Oakland Fire Department addressed the situation in news conference, explaining that an air quality alert had been issued as a precaution. 

An Environmental Protection Agency response team member was also on site providing technical assistance to the fire department for a few hours after the fire. The team demobilized when it determined no air monitoring support would be necessary from the EPA.

The Bay Area Quality Management District issued an air quality advisory due to the smoke from the facility. 


Debris pile sparks fire at Oakland recycling yard near port

A heap of debris caught fire at a recycling yard near the Port of Oakland on Wednesday.

"It is a large group of smoke, but it is dissipating as it leaves the air," Covington said. 

The impact of the smoke was felt in Oakland, San Leandro, Fremont, Alameda, and even extend as far south as San Jose. The EPA advised residents to keep all windows and doors closed as a precaution.

This is the third fire at Schnitzer Steel since 2018. 

The previous blaze in June 2020 bore many similarities to the current incident.

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Notably, in 2021, the steel recycling plant reached a settlement of $4.1 million with the state following allegations of illegally releasing hazardous waste and harmful emissions into the West Oakland community.

As part of the settlement, Schnitzer Steel was required to install air pollution control equipment.

The origin of the recent fire remains under investigation. The facility's shredder has been identified as a contributing factor to the significant size of the debris pile, which fueled the blaze.

Oakland A's President Dave Kaval spoke about the fire online saying the team is still pursuing legal action against that steel company, despite wanting to relocate the baseball team to Las Vegas. 


Smoke from the Schnitzer Steel fire in Oakland is seen throughout the East Bay. Aug. 2023 

Smoke from the Schnitzer Steel fire in Oakland is seen throughout the East Bay. Aug. 2023 

Crews put out a blaze burning at Schnitzer Steel near the Port of Oakland. Aug. 9, 2023 

Crews put out a blaze burning at Schnitzer Steel near the Port of Oakland. Aug. 9, 2023 

A fire boat extinguishes a blaze burning at Schnitzer Steel in Oakland. Aug. 9, 2023 

Pile of debris on fire at Oakland's Schnitzer Steel. Aug. 9, 2023. 

Smoke billows from a fire at the Schnitzer Steel plant near the Port of Oakland. Aug. 9, 2023 

While firefighters have reported containing the fire at Schnitzer Steel, by Thursday morning, an air quality advisory remained in effect for nearby communities. Aug. 9, 2023

Plumes of smoke billow