MODESTO — A small man-made fire late Wednesday afternoon temporarily drove metal scavengers off the grounds at the former Indalex plant in north Modesto.
Modesto fire crews responded to a blaze at the large, debris-filled shell of the old aluminum manufacturing plant at about 3:45 p.m. Wednesday. When they arrived, a 20-foot by 20-foot former paint booth inside what used to be the building was ablaze.
Modesto Regional Fire Authority Division Chief Sean Slamon said when crews arrived some 30 unauthorized metal scavengers were still working at the site, despite the nearby flames. Stanislaus County sheriff's officers had to disperse the people dismantling the plant.
Slamon said crews surveyed the scene and checked air pollution levels before deciding to let the fire burn itself out.
"If we put water on it, then that water could be contaminated," Slamon said. "We're concerned there may be hazardous chemicals from the old paint booth area and putting water on it would create a larger mess."
Four engines, a fire truck and battalion chief initially responded to the blaze. After it was determined they would let the fire burn itself out, two crews remained to monitor it. A little less than an hour after arriving, crews doused the remaining area with foam.
No one was injured and Slamon said firefighters planned to stay on site to secure the scene into the evening and watch for flare-ups.
Slamon said the fire was man-made, but it was unclear whether it was started accidentally or intentionally. An investigation is ongoing.
This is the second fire at the abandoned plant. On Nov. 15, crews responded to a 2 a.m. fire in the the former offices of the complex. No injuries were reported in that fire.
"There is so little left to burn now. It's now mostly just debris," Slamon said. "But we are very concerned about the structure's stability and any possible collapse. And this fire doesn't help that."
Metal scavengers have been systematically picking apart the 125,000-square-foot building for months, hauling away steel support beams and other chunks to sell for profit. Large sections of the roof have already collapsed, and what remains is the structure's exoskeleton.
Law enforcement officials have largely left the scavengers alone. Even though they aren't authorized to be there, no one claims ownership of the building -- meaning there is no victim for which to press criminal charges.
The Indalex facility closed in 2008 and was abandoned two years later. Late last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spent $500,000 cleaning up toxic chemicals left there.
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors has discussed options for dealing with the plant, which has become an eyesore and potential public hazard, but has not yet decided on how to proceed.
Scavengers were eager to return to the site Wednesday evening, stopping firefighters to ask when they could get back on the grounds.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2284.
Modesto Regional Fire Puts Out Fire at Indalex.