CERES -- Firefighters spent most of Tuesday afternoon putting out smoldering fires at a recycling plant where a blaze erupted earlier in the day hurling a thick plume of black smoke into the air and torching large piles of paper, plastic, cardboard and 10 acres of grass in a nearby field.
The fire didn't damage any structures or cause any injuries, Ceres Fire Battalion Chief Bryan Hunt said.
The fire started about 10:30 a.m., Hunt said, in a pile of paper on the north end of Bonzi Recycling LLC at 2070 Morgan Road, just north of East Whitmore Avenue.
The business experienced a similar fire in September 2006, when a piece of wire scraping along concrete sparked a blaze that burned several tons of paper and plastic products at the plant.
Strong winds pushed Tuesday's fire southeast beyond the plant's boundaries onto a grass field, threatening businesses along Rockefeller Drive. Fire crews stopped the flames within several feet of reaching the commercial property.
Hunt said employees initially tried to put out the fire themselves with a water hose and extinguishers, but the wind spread embers.
"The wind spread the fire and the embers not only into the different bins (of recyclable materials) but also to the adjacent property," Hunt said. "It just carried the embers right into the grass."
He said about 40 firefighters spent the next two hours containing the blaze. Police closed Whitmore as firefighters worked to stop the grass fire from spreading. The street was open to traffic about 2 p.m.
Morgan, however, remained closed between Rockefeller and Whitmore until Tuesday evening.
At least 15 firefighting vehicles were at the scene, including some that are used to battle wildfires. Hunt said the biggest obstacle was the wind pushing the flames around.
"Had it been a calm day, it wouldn't have been as bad," Hunt said. "Mother Nature always throws you a curve ball."
He said fire investigators had examined the site of the blaze, but the cause of the fire had not been determined. He did not have an estimate of how much recyclable material was burned Tuesday or the cost of the fire damage.
Fire officials said the blaze that burned materials at the plant in 2006 started when a forklift moving a bale of recycled newspaper had a wire hanging from beneath its load. The wire scraped the concrete and caused sparks that ignited the paper as the bale was moved next to other bales.
Like the 2006 fire, Tuesday's paper fire quickly spread to the other materials at the plant and sent black smoke billowing into the air.
Management officials from Bonzi Recycling were at the plant Tuesday afternoon, but they declined to comment for this report. They said they would comment publicly after the company conducted its investigation into the fire.
Hunt said several fire departments assisted Ceres Fire Department in battling the blaze including Modesto, Salida, Turlock, Mountain View, Stanislaus Consolidated, Keyes, Burbank-Paradise and Hughson.
About 5 p.m., several fire crews remained at the recycling plant searching for hot spots as a large pool of water collected on the south end of the plant.
An employee used a bulldozer to pull apart large piles of paper at the plant as three firefighters hosed down the smoldering contents. Five-foot flames in the center of the property were visible from the customer entrance.
"You have to drag the materials out to get to where the fire is," Hunt said. "Sometimes, where the smoking is coming from and where the fire actually is are two different places."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.