Police and fire investigators agree that a blaze at a metal recycling facility in Redwood City last month appears to have been deliberately set, but they have no suspects, a police lieutenant said Thursday.
The fire was reported at about 1 a.m. Dec. 17 at the Sims Metal Management plant at 699 Seaport Blvd. in the city’s industrial sector. It was the second fire at the facility within five weeks.
An on-duty employee at the facility reported the fire after hearing a loud explosion and seeing the fire ignite in a stockpile of metal recyclables at the plant, according to police Lt. Sean Hart.
After continuing with the month-long investigation, city officials are now calling the two-alarm fire suspicious based on the contents of the stockpile, Hart said.
“It’s the fact that from what we’re being told was in the recycling pile, there was nothing that would self combust,” Hart said.
Officials are in the process of ruling out potential causes and after determining there was no natural or obvious ignition source, such as lightning, they now consider it suspicious, Hart said.
Police and fire investigators are continuing to review days worth of surveillance footage taken from multiple locations from inside the plant and the surrounding area including footage from the Port of Redwood City, Hart said.
The metal yard is on a dead-end street and investigators are hopeful a suspect will be caught on camera.
City officials are conferring with the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives for assistance with processing forensics, Hart said.
Redwood City firefighters fought a similar fire Nov. 10 that was not considered suspicious so police don’t believe the two are related, Hart said. Redwood City Fire Marshal Jim Palisi agreed but said investigators could not find its exact ignition source.
Sims Metal Management representatives seem to be relieved by the Police Department’s announcement and maintained their cooperation, according to a statement by Sims.
“While not conclusive as to cause, the Police Department’s statement that there is a common consensus amongst the investigators that the fire may have been deliberately set is of course of concern to us. It is also consistent with our understanding of the suspicious circumstances of that incident,” according to the statement.
City officials gave Sims strict regulations after the second fire, which occurred after hours when only one security guard was on duty. Under the city’s new demands, three qualified operators must be present 24 hours a day, seven days a week and the company must halt operations should staffing levels fall short.
The city, various county offices, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Department of Substance Control and the Environmental Protection Agency participated in a meeting outlining guidelines and confirming each jurisdiction has an open investigation which they will report on once details are finalized, according to an email from a Redwood City spokeswoman Sheri Costa-Batis.
Further details are not being released at this time as the investigation is still ongoing, Hart said.
Firefighters also battled a blaze at the same recycling center in April 2007. The Bay Area Air Quality Management District levied public nuisance violations for the 2007 and November fires due to large quantities of contaminates that annoyed or caused a nuisance to the public.
Anyone with information regarding the Dec. 17 fire is urged to contact Redwood City police detectives at (650) 780-7607. Those who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.