CERES -- Firefighters here fought an unconventional fire Wednesday; one that smelled better than most and could be moved to a safer location.
It started about 12:30 p.m. when the dual tires near the cab of a big rig caught fire as it traveled south on Highway 99 near downtown Ceres, according to Battalion Chief Bryan Hunt.
Firefighters responded and quickly extinguished the flames on the tires, but found the fire had spread to the front of the 40-foot cargo container.
They opened the back of the container to find it packed from top to bottom with "large pallets of dried flowers and spices, also known as tea," Hunt said.
Rather than risking the safety of his firefighters and the drivers on the highway, Hunt decided to close the container with the smoldering fire inside and have the big rig towed into town.
It was towed to North Street in Ceres, across the street from the Fire Department.
While it took about an hour to get it there, the fire stayed contained to the front of the cargo area and only started to spread slightly when firefighters opened the doors and oxygen was let in, Hunt said.
To get to the burning tea in the front of the container, crews had to start in the back and use a forklift to remove pallets of tea, about two-thirds of the cargo.
"It was one of the nicer- smelling fires I've been to," Hunt said.
It took about two hours to remove all the tea and extinguish the fire, which caused $20,000 damage to the big rig and its contents.
Hunt said the fire likely started when one of the dual tires on the big rig went flat and rubbed against the tire next to it.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter, @ModestoBeeCrime.