$1-Million Fire Guts 2 Firms, Triggers Toxic Material Alert

Times Staff Writer

A spectacular blaze gutted two janitorial supply and maintenance companies near Fullerton Municipal Airport Sunday morning, causing an estimated $1 million in damage and triggering a toxic alert when tanks and boxes of supplies exploded.

About 25 workers in a nearby building were evacuated, and 30 Fullerton firefighters who were exposed to possibly toxic smoke had to disrobe and shower at the scene.

The fire broke out about 10:30 a.m. in a one-story building at 4250 Artesia Ave., near the corner of Dale Street. The building is part of a small industrial complex that borders the north side of Fullerton Municipal Airport. Firefighters said the blaze was contained to the building, which is the office for two companies, Eco Chemical Products Inc. and National Chemical Service.

No one was injured, and the cause of the blaze was not immediately determined. It will require extensive investigation, said Fullerton Fire Marshal John Clark.

Neighbors Watch Anxiously

Many residents of Buena Park, which borders the Fullerton airport and industrial area, watched anxiously as huge flames belched from the building and hazardous-material workers cordoned off the area.


“Fortunately, no civilians were in danger because of the fire,” said Clark. “The wind was blowing the smoke away to the north, where there aren’t any houses. The nearest residences are to the west.”

Nonetheless, some families along Artesia Avenue in Buena Park were in their yards, about a block from the fire, watching with concern.

“All it takes is the mention of a chemical fire to make me nervous,” said Beverly Palmer, as she watched with friends at the corner of Dale and Artesia.

Clark said the water used to fight the blaze was being trapped before it could run into residential streets. “We’ll have this water sucked up and disposed of because we don’t know what chemicals might have gotten into it,” Clark said.

Fullerton Fire Engineer Vonnie Johnson, among the first on the scene, said the building “was completely engulfed.” Clark said the fire burned intensely for about 45 minutes before firefighters controlled it.

Firefighters Washed Down as Precaution

Fullerton Fire Battalion Chief Van Goyne, the commander at the scene, said the firefighters’ exposure to the dense smoke made it necessary for about 30 of them to strip to their underwear and be washed down. Officials said hosing off firefighters is a normal precaution when it can’t be determined what chemicals in a fire have burned into toxic gases.

Officers of the two companies in the destroyed building said they didn’t think the cleaning supplies in the building posed a serious chemical danger. Elwyn Dyer of Los Alamitos, vice president of both Eco Chemical Products and National Chemical Service, said the most dangerous chemicals he knew of in the building were acids in a few boxes of drain cleaners. Dyer said that Eco Chemical Products is a janitorial supplies wholesaler and that National Chemical Service provides cleaning and maintenance for several large firms in Orange County.

Dyer said that in recent months the two companies had provided the City of Fullerton with detailed information about the contents of the building.

J. W. Evans of Placentia, president of the two companies, said, “Mostly these are janitorial supplies,” including industrial-grade disinfectants and cleaners.

The air around the fire site reeked of soap and disinfectant odors long after the fire had been controlled.

Evans, who estimated the total loss at about $1 million, said the structure was insured.