COMPILED FROM MEDIA AND STAFF REPORTS
SEGUIN — A massive fire at a Guadalupe County steel mill that sent putrid fumes all the way to San Marcos on Thursday may have been caused by gasoline left in the tank of a junk car, investigators say.
Workmen at the CMC Steel Texas plant west of Seguin saw flames nearly immediately after the fire started, likely ignited by sparks from metal as heavy machinery churned through a of crushed salvage vehicles, the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise reported. Fueled by batteries, tires and other flammable materials mixed with the metal heap, the fire spread quickly through the two-acre scrap yard, Guadalupe County Fire Marshal David Padula said.
“It looks like a car in the pile may have had fuel in it when they began cutting, They saw the flames immediately and acted as soon as possible, but it was too late and the fire had spread throughout the pile,” Padula told the newspaper.
Padula said his findings were preliminary and that an investigation is ongoing.
Firefighters from McQueeny, Seguin, Marion, New Braunfels, New Berlin, Schertz and Randolph Air Force Base worked for more than 15 hours to extinguish the fire, which was reported at 6:45 a.m. July 10 and declared contained at about 10 p.m. the same day, according to statement by Guadalupe County Emergency Management Coordinator Dan Kinsey. Crews worked into Thursday night and Friday morning to douse hotspots in the smoldering heap.
On Thursday morning, a giant plume of billowing smoke could be seen in New Braunfels, more than 10 miles away. Meanwhile, people more than 20 miles away in San Marcos reported a distinctive, disagreeable smell carried by generally northbound wind.
Residents in the path of drifting smoke were initially urged to stay indoors or leave the area if they had respiratory problems. However, on-site monitors from the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality did not detect “air pollutions at levels of immediate concern,” a spokesperson for the agency told San Antonio ABC affiliate KSAT News.
The steel mill’s scrap metal yard, adjacent to a giant shredder used to prepare reclaimed metal for use in production of new steel, is about 1,400 feet at the nearest point to the Guadalupe River, according to satellite maps examined by the San Marcos Mercury. Workers built berms around the fire site to ensure runoff from the firefighting effort did not drain into the river, Kinsey said.
CMC Steel Texas — a major manufacturer of beams, rebar and other construction materials — was back up and running on Friday, a company spokesperson said in a statement. The plant is the Seguin area’s third-largest employer with a payroll of 847 as of December 2013, according to the Seguin Economic Development Corp.
COVER: A pillar of smoke towers over a property adjacent to CMC Steel Texas near Seguin on Thursday morning. Smoke from a fire that consumed a two-acre pile of junk vehicles could be seen in New Braunfels and smelled in San Marcos. PHOTO VIA CITY OF SEGUIN VIDEO.