Rags Catch Fire, Cause $10,500 Damage to Santa Ana Building

About 300 employees and visitors were evacuated from a Santa Ana office building Friday morning when oil-soaked rags caught fire, sending clouds of toxic smoke through air shafts in the building, Fire Department officials said.

The fire started by spontaneous combustion at 10:36 a.m. in a storage area on the first floor of the four-story building at 801 W. Civic Center Drive, Santa Ana Deputy Fire Chief James Montgomery said.

The fire caused $10,000 in damage to the building and $500 to its contents, he said.

"Any rag that has been soaked in oil and rolled into a tight ball and discarded will burn if it's not in a place where you limit the combustion air," Montgomery said. The rags should have been stored in a metal container with a tight-fitting metal lid, he said.

Sprinklers contained the fire to the room in which it started, he said. Firefighters had extinguished the flames in a few minutes, he said. The occupants, however, had to wait an average of 45 minutes for the smoke and heat from the fire to dissipate before they could return to their offices, he said.

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