Residents near an industrial fire in Maywood have reported that the fire's smoke has a foreign odor, but Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said that the smell could just be due to chemicals being present. The fire was declared extinguished on Wednesday afternoon.
“This fire is an industrial fire and it’s been reported that there are chemicals in the building that have burned, in particular magnesium," Atwood told KPCC. "It’s possible that whatever has been burning is creating an odor that might have a chemical smell or would be different from what residents are used to experiencing from a wildfire."
Atwood said that magnesium isn't a toxic air pollutant, though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does have exposure limits for workers. He said that if there was magnesium present in the smoke, the concern would be that it would irritate respiratory systems and eyes of workers and residents.
“You have to keep in mind that as smoke and pollutants travel away from the source, that it becomes much more diluted, but there is a concern for firefighters who are very close on scene,” Atwood told KPCC.
But Los Angeles County Fire Deputy Chief John Tripp said that there are no chemicals in the air.
“The smoke that’s been given off by the fire, that smoke is almost absolutely eliminated,” Tripp said.
Fire officials had said earlier that the fire was feeding on approximately 10,000 pounds of magnesium shavings that were contained in barrels and bins before being knocked over, creating three main burning piles.
“I would’ve really hoped the fire was out this morning, because the process of combustion would’ve consumed everything — that’s what our plan was. But again, with the mound of material there, that’s what gave us a challenge,” Tripp had said at a morning press conference
The 300 residents displaced by the fire have a "strong possibility" of returning home Wednesday night, John Tripp said during an afternoon press conference.
“Right now we’re re-evaluating and ensuring that the residue that was in where the houses were poses no health hazard before we can reoccupy. That is our number 1 priority,” Tripp said.
Tripp said earlier that the evacuations weren’t made for fear of people’s health — officials believed their houses would be consumed.
As hazardous materials evaluations were conducted Wednesday morning, officials discovered that the majority of the magnesium burned by the fire had been consumed during the process of combustion, Tripp said.
This allowed for majority of the remaining fire to be ousted by fire and foam — previously not an option due to the risk of explosions like the ones that erupted Tuesday.
Tripp had said earlier that they planned to let the magnesium burn away until they could smother the blaze with a special substance called Metal-X, which is hard to obtain in Southern California.
Water used after the fire initially broke was necessary, Tripp said, as the fire spread out in three directions toward nearby homes and businesses.
Tripp said that the department is currently working with AQMD and health officials to make a decision about whether residents can return to their homes as soon as results from an analysis on the residue comes back.
This story has been updated.