Jan. 18--A six-alarm fire that swept across four buildings in an industrial area of unincorporated Redwood City on Friday morning displaced at least 17 apartment dwellers and prompted an air quality warning from the county health department.
"It spread really quickly," Redwood City fire spokeswoman Sheri Costa-Batis said. "It went from a one to a two, within 45 minutes it went to a six-alarm (fire)."
First reported at about 5:50 a.m., the blaze burned for about five hours before firefighters got it under control. It originated inside the FMW Machine Shop at 894 Douglas Ave., Costa-Batis said. That building was destroyed and three adjacent structures, including a two-story apartment building, were "significantly damaged," she added.
The cause of the blaze is still under investigation.
In response to the fire, the San Mateo County Health System issued an advisory, recommending that anyone who smells smoke stay indoors or limit outdoor activities.
"All smoke is toxic and people should decrease or minimize their exposure to smoke," the warning stated. "Children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions are particularly sensitive."
Next to the machine shop, an apartment building at 892 Douglas Ave. was evacuated. No injuries were reported.
Mario Pereznegron, 36, said he and his wife lost everything in the fire -- wedding photos, pictures of their two daughters, jewelry, cash, the kids' toys, a television. The family had lived in their apartment for three years.
"Todos, todos, todos," Pereznegron said, speaking through an interpreter at a Red Cross evacuation shelter set up at the nearby Fair Oaks Community Center, repeating the Spanish word for "all."
Although the flames didn't reach Jeannie Hisel's single-story home next door at 874 Douglas Ave., she also was evacuated in the dark morning.
"I could hear noise and then I heard banging and, 'get out, get out,' " Hisel said. "I ran outside and turned around and I saw the flames about 20 feet up in the air."
By late morning she was still waiting to return to her home as she sat across the street on a curb.
The fire stopped just short of Chris Newell's machine shop, Applied Process Equipment, at 2620 Bay Road. But firefighters "cut a big hole" in a fence at the back of his property to access the flaming buildings. He called his employees and told them to stay home for the day and said he expects to lose several days of work as a result of the fire.
Pooja Trivedi, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said the agency was providing immediate shelter and other emergency items such as food and clothing for displaced residents. Some of the apartment residents may have family or friends in the area that they could stay with, she added.
"We will be meeting with clients over the next few days to assess their long-term needs," Trivedi said in an email.
Friday's fire was the third to strike an industrial section of Redwood City in the past several weeks. A two-alarm blaze broke out at about 12:50 a.m. Dec. 17 at Sims Metal Management's 699 Seaport Blvd. plant and took firefighters nine hours to control. It was similar to a Nov. 10 blaze at the same plant; both started in metal scrap piles and prompted air quality concerns around the Peninsula and South Bay.
After the Dec. 17 blaze, Redwood City City Manager Bob Bell sent a letter to Sims outlining conditions the company must meet to keep operating while government agencies investigate the cause of the fires and identify any changes needed.
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