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California

Owner of Maywood metal recycling facility faced charges for dumping waste before massive blaze

Maywood fire
Los Angeles County firefighters clear brush at a residence in the 3500 block of 52nd Street to fight the fire from the back of a smoldering Maywood warehouse.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

The owner of a recycling facility that has been burning for more than 30 hours at an industrial park in Maywood was recently charged with multiple felonies for improperly storing and disposing hazardous materials at his site, according to court records.

Da Xiong Pan, who also goes by Daniel Pan, pleaded not guilty in May to five felony charges. Among those charges was that he knowingly disposed of treated and stored hazardous waste without a permit at his site, Panda International Trading Co., at 3570 Fruitland Ave., according to a Los Angeles County Superior Court criminal complaint.

Investigators visited the facility in June and November 2013 and collected evidence showing that toxic levels of metal particulates were released onto a public sidewalk in front of the company’s facility, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency’s Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The black dust contained copper, lead, zinc, cadmium, nickel and chromium, according to the agency.

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Panda, a scrap metal recycling facility, did not have a permit from the Department of Toxic Substances Control, according to court records. The facility stores waste such as household appliances and cathode ray tubes.

Pan could not be reached for comment. 

After the operator was notified of the violations, he “cleaned up, or managed the hazardous waste appropriately,” agency spokesman Russ Edmondson said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Edmondson said the Department of Toxic Substances Control was playing a supporting role as firefighters worked on containing the fire.

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“The County Fire Department also oversees operations at the facility,” he said. “However, we have investigated a company operating at this address.”

The same site is now the subject of another investigation sparked by a stubborn fire that has burning there since early Tuesday. Fire officials said the blaze was first spotted at a commercial building in a storage yard in the metal recycling facility.

Fueled by 10,000 pounds of magnesium, the smoldering chemical fire, which started at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, could continue for another day, fire officials said.

Firefighters are struggling to get a handle on the massive blaze because, unlike most fires, this one doesn’t respond well to water.

“Putting water on it [could] cause it to explode,” said Inspector Richard Licon, spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. “We can’t use it. It’s very frustrating for us as firefighters.”

Traditional methods such as sand and dirt are also useless because they contain water, so firefighters must smother the fire with a rare, dry chemical extinguishing agent, he said.

“We have to let this fire smother and we have to eliminate the smoke -- if we don’t do that, we cannot let the people repopulate and get back in their homes,” said Deputy Fire Chief John Tripp.

At one point Tuesday, the fire was spreading in three directions toward homes and businesses, he said. Several explosions occurred as firefighters doused water onto the blaze.

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Odor from the fire was reported from as far away as the San Fernando Valley.

Although fire officials said a breeze was helping push smoke away from the blaze, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory on Wednesday.

Evacuation orders went out to 300 homes and businesses in the surrounding neighborhood.

By Wednesday morning, more than 130 people had checked into an evacuation center at YMCA in Maywood. Several residential blocks were without power because of burned power lines.

As firefighters attempt to put out the blaze, they are also photographing and keeping records of the facility for their investigation, Licon said.

Investigators are looking into business practices at the facility and how waste was stored, he added.

For breaking news in California, follow VeronicaRochaLA on Twitter.

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