A day and half after a massive fire that prompted the “largest response” in the history of the Phoenix Fire Department burned multiple recycling yards and commercial structures on Saturday in west Phoenix, threatening nearby homes and filling the sky with clouds of smoke and flames, nearby roads are still closed.
Fire officials received reports on Saturday at about 12:30 p.m. of smoke coming from a recycling yard located near 35th Avenue and Lincoln Street. The recycling yard was later identified as Friedman Waste Control Systems, said Capt. Todd Keller, a spokesman for the Phoenix Fire Department.
A fire engine arrived at the scene and found multiple pallets of cardboard and paper on fire and quickly “balanced” the assignment to a first-alarm fire and started a defensive operation, Keller said.
Due to the amount of materials, fire officials upgraded the fire to a second alarm after more firefighters arrived at the scene. Sector assignments were then made and placed on four sides of the fire for containment.
Multiple businesses adjacent to the recycling yard, including a tire shop, lumber company and recycling center, were destroyed by the blaze, which was pushed east into nearby businesses by wind, Keller said.
At about 3:30 p.m., the fire was upgraded to a Type 1 fire and had reached five commercial structures along with multiple recycling yards, officials said. About 200 firefighters between 10 agencies were working on the fire on Saturday evening.
Phoenix fire and police asked people to stay out of the area of the fire.
The neighborhood in the area of the fire is a post-industrial rail yard with a collection of junk shops, recycling plants and more backed up against train tracks. Lincoln Street separates the fronts of the businesses and warehouses from homes and apartments.
“We don’t know the severity of loss to those buildings but I can tell you that this lumber yard, a lot of it was lost. Outside this tire shop a lot of their product was lost also,” Keller said.
Roughly 800 customers were also impacted by a power outage in the area of the fire about 3:30 p.m., according to an Arizona Public Service electric outage map.
Keller said a total of 150 people in residential or commercial buildings were without power for about 10 hours on Saturday.
Authorities at the scene were concerned that if the wind shifted, the fire could spread to homes. Phoenix police officers were at the scene evacuating residents west of 35th Avenue and north of Grant Street.
At first, Keller said four homes were evacuated on Lincoln Street, but later clarified that these residents were asked to avoid the area and not return to their homes. He said he was unaware of any homes being evacuated.
Jim Gilloon, regional communications manager for the American Red Cross, said that volunteers with the Red Cross were talking and offering support to affected residents.
“We’re there to see what they need from us right now,” he said.
Anyone who needs more information about resources or shelter from fires in central and northern Arizona can call the regional American Red Cross number at 602-336-6660.
Keller also said businesses in the area northwest of and on the northwest corner of Lincoln Street and 35th Avenue were evacuated on Saturday afternoon. Phoenix police said Washington Street to Buckeye Road and 35th to 39th avenues were closed due to the fire being worked on near 36th Avenue and Lincoln Street.
Fire crews were using ladders to reach the fire, Keller said. “We are in a defensive posture, which means we’re going to use our ladder pipes to hit the fire from an elevated position,” Keller said.
He also said Phoenix fire officials were evaluating the environmental impacts of the fire on Saturday afternoon.
Area residents and spectators from across the Valley stood on nearby streets to watch.
Alicia Sylvester, 20, a Phoenix resident and Arizona State University student, said she stopped at the scene of the fire for about 20 minutes after seeing how close the fire was to her workplace, a nearby warehouse located at Buckeye Road and 49th Avenue.
“We all got kind of worried, so we pulled off to the side and were asking people, ‘Oh what’s going on?'” she said.
She said she noticed about 30 parked cars from people pulling over to learn more about the fire.
“There was just a bunch of people from the neighboring areas gathering and just trying to figure out what to do,” she said.
The blaze closed 35th Avenue from Buckeye Road to Van Buren Street. Keller said the fire was 0% contained on Saturday afternoon.
By Saturday evening, Phoenix fire officials said crews were “getting good knock down on the fire” and would remain overnight to put out remaining hot spots.
One firefighter was hospitalized in stable condition with a lower extremity injury, Keller said. He did not have further details about the injury.
As of Sunday morning, firefighters from multiple cities remained at the site of the fire.
The fire, which caused massive clouds of smoke that spread across the Valley, was visible from space,
according to the National Weather Service in Phoenix.
Investigators are on scene and waiting for the fire to be completely extinguished before they begin to look for the cause of the fire, Keller added.
Fire crews had been in contact with the owners of the recycling yard, Friedman Waste, and were planning to hand the yard back to them.
“Sometime tomorrow morning we’re going to turn the scene over to them,” Keller said. “They’ll have their own water trucks, they’ll have their own hose lines, so they can continue this so that we can get our firefighters back into service.”