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By Staff Writer Mitchell Walther
A four-alarm fire ravaged the Western Pacific Pulp and Paper Recycling Center in Newark last Friday night, creating a noxious cloud that forced residents to shelter in place for several hours. No injuries were reported.
The fire was reported about 3 p.m. A billowing plume of black smoke could be seen as far away as San Jose. Firefighters declared the blaze under control by nightfall, but remained on the scene overnight to guard against a flare-up.
The Newark Police Department instructed residents to remain in their homes overnight. The danger of the toxic smoke was alleviated by a strong wind, which dissipated the cloud, although the odor lingered for some time. The order to remain inside was lifted by the Alameda County Fire Department at 6:30 p.m..
The black smoke slowly turned white as bits of plastics were reduced to ash. Student firefighter Ian Terra pointed to a plume of black smoke and said “The darker smoke implies plastic is burning. You don’t want to breathe that.”
With the nearest hydrant blocks away on the corner of Cherry and Smith, firefighters scrambled to get water on the blaze. They chained the hydrant to two other firetrucks, and then connected the trucks to a third firetruck closer to the burning recycling center.
This process of relay-pumping is meant to maintain water pressure over long distances, said firefighter John Warren, a former battalion chief. It allowed the water to reach the top of the ladder at full power.
Paramedics parked their ambulance and set up a gurney on the sidewalk 50 yards from the firetrucks as a precaution, but all of the employees were evacuated safely, said Newark Police Officer Aaron Slater.
The cause of the blaze and estimate of the damages are under investigation. It was fought by firefighters from Alameda County, Fremont and Hayward.