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150 Jobs Lost in Anaheim Fire : Workers Brace for Hardship, Uncertainty

Times Staff Writer

Mary Torres watched Friday as investigators sifted through a smoldering heap that had been her workplace for 19 years.

“This is our home away from home,” said Torres, a punch-press operator at Anaheim Foundry, where a chemical fire Thursday night caused $10 million to $12 million in damage. “This is all I’ve been trained to do. I can’t do anything else.”

The fire, reported at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at 800 E. Orangethorpe Ave., put 150 foundry employees out of work, said plant General Manager Dave Cato, who surveyed the scene Friday morning after staying near the site throughout the night.

The foundry is in an industrial area near the Anaheim-Fullerton border.

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“It’s going to be a hardship for a lot of people,” Cato said. “It’s been their livelihood.”

It took 65 firefighters about two hours to control the blaze, which was fueled by chemicals such as cutting oils, kerosene and a number of hydraulic fuels used in the plant to process metals for recycling and casting, said Anaheim Fire Department Capt. Robert Hernandez.

Fifteen units, including a hazardous-materials crew, responded to the blaze from Anaheim, Fullerton, Orange and Orange County. One Anaheim firefighter suffered heat exhaustion but was quickly back in action, said Division Chief Ron Hamric. No other injuries were reported.

No one was in the foundry, which includes office and storage space, at the time of the blaze, Cato said.

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It will take investigators at least two days before they can venture deep into the rubble of the building, which was still smoldering Friday, to seek the cause of the blaze, Hernandez said.

The heat of the fire pushed walls outward, making them unstable, he said.

“This type of building is very difficult to fight fires in,” Hernandez said.

Witnesses said the spectacular fire provided firefighters with a challenge.

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“Firefighters couldn’t get in because there was steel everywhere,” said John Kemp of Stanton, who saw the blaze and was back Friday to watch firefighters mop up. “It was like entering a safe. Maybe they were scared that something would fall.”

Hernandez said the fire started in the back of the building and engulfed most of the plant.

Small flames continued to crackle amid blackened rubble Friday. Some exterior walls collapsed during the fire, as did the building’s roof, parts of which were strewn on the pavement.

“Complete destruction,” Cato said, shaking his head.

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Cato said he hopes the plant will be rebuilt.

“Someday, we will get this back together,” he said.

Many workers came to see the fire Thursday night and returned Friday morning to commiserate with co-workers, said Maria Cervantes, a company employee. Many face uncertain futures.

“I wouldn’t know what to do,” said Torres, her back turned toward the plant. “Nineteen years of my life are in there. When you’re here, you want to stay. It’s a part of you. This is very difficult. It’s something you can’t comprehend.”

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Torres, who turns 55 today, said she is determined to come back to work someday.

“I’m too old to do anything else. I need to come back,” she said.

Other workers were less optimistic.

Said Michela Duran, a plant inspector who worked there for 11 years: “The future doesn’t look so good.”

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