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.

The fire erupted around 5:31 p.m. at Schnitzer Steel, located on Embarcadero West, according to the Oakland Fire Department.

Fire officials specified that the debris pile was burning outdoors at the recycling plant. Smoke could be seen for miles throughout the Bay Area. 

There are no evacuation orders, but fire officials said for residents in the area to keep their doors and windows closed due to diminished air quality. 

Interim Oakland Fire Department Chief Damon Covington described the fire as stubborn and was hoping for 100% containment by around midnight. 

Pile of debris on fire at Oaklands Schnitzer Steel. Aug. 9, 2023. 

"Schnitzer Steel has used their cranes to pull the debris pile apart," Covington said. The chief said a shredder at the facility has been broken for a few days, which was the reason why the debris was piled so high. The facility has ordered repair parts and await their arrival.  

No injuries have been reported. It is not clear how the debris caught fire. 

Initially, Michael Hunt, a spokesperson for the fire department, said the blaze was expected to burn for several hours. He said the goal is for firefighters to focus on hot spots. About an hour into the ordeal, he described the fire as contained, but not yet under control. Hunt could not speak in detail on the toxicity of the material that was burning. 

Fire officials said a hazardous materials team from the fire department will conduct ongoing air quality testing while smoke continues to emanate from the location. 

"OFD will work with Alameda County health officials to provide air quality updates and guidance as needed while the incident is ongoing," the fire department said in a statement posted to social media late Wednesday. 

Smoke wafts into the air from a debris fire burning at Schnitzer Steel in Oakland. August 9, 2023. (User submission) 

On social media, many residents described the overwhelming smell of burning plastic. The smell was strong in the KTVU newsroom, which is not far from the location of the fire. 

At least one fire engine was dispatched to the site. 45 firefighters responded to the scene. Mutual aid was requested in the form of fire boats from the cities of San Francisco and Alameda. 

Fire officials said Environmental Protection Agency is taking air samples from the location. 

Bay Area Air Quality, issued an air quality advisory due to the smoke, saying parts of the East Bay are being impacted. "Smoke from the fire is expected to impact Oakland, San Leandro, Fremont, and Alameda, with potential impacts as far south as San Jose this evening," the agency said in a statement. They had earlier predicted the plume to travel south this evening. 

The air district did not forecast the air quality to exceed the national air quality health standard for the region and is not issuing a Spare the Air Alert. 

They advised to avoid exposure by staying indoors and setting air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to prevent outside air from moving inside. They also provided a link to real-time air quality information:

In January, the Oakland A's lost an appeal in state Supreme Court that sought to require the company to reclassify its waste as hazardous and to make them stop dumping it in landfills. Schnitzer Steel has ties to the A's and the team's former plans for a waterfront ballpark in Oakland. 

In 2021, California's attorney general announced the steel shredder and recycler settled for $4.1 million for illegally releasing hazardous waste and harmful emissions into the West Oakland community including the Oakland Estuary. 

We will keep you updated with the latest from this developing news story. 

KTVU's Amber Lee contributed to this report. 

Pile of debris on fire at Oaklands Schnitzer Steel. Aug. 9, 2023. 


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