Over 100 firefighters worked in intense heat and wind to extinguish a 5-alarm industrial fire and resulting grass fire on Friday, July 8. The accidental, 50-acre fire began mid-day at Rio’s Automotive Recycling junkyard on 4385 W. 700 S. after a smoldering pile of sawdust ignited while employees were at lunch, according to acting SLC Fire Dept. spokesman Capt. Mark Bednarik.
Workers from a pallet company that rents space from Rio’s Automotive Recycling had been cutting wooden pallets, and there was a lot of sawdust. “SLC Fire investigators believe it is likely that a chainsaw struck nails in the pallets, sending sparks into the sawdust pile,” said Bednarik.
The blaze caused a grass fire after it jumped north over 700 South. Exploding propane cylinders (for hydraulic lifts) and residual fuel in gas tanks sent ongoing flames and a huge plume of black smoke toward the Salt Lake City International Airport. No flights were cancelled, but nine flights were delayed because of the smoke.
SLC Fire officials were initially worried about unknown hazardous materials in 55-gallon barrels that were stacked two-deep on the west perimeter of the lot as a fence. It turned out that these barrels were empty. However, smoke from this synthetic fire was highly toxic. Early Friday afternoon, civilian bystanders and the media were evacuated from the area east and north of the fire. A nearby business to the north of the junkyard was also evacuated.
UDOT shut down I-80 between I-215 and 5600 West for a time because of hazards from the smoke. Rocky Mountain Power intentionally shut down their substation at 4800 W. 700 S. to prevent live power lines from going down in the fire. Power was fully restored by 2:30 p.m.
Fire crews from Farmington, South Davis, Unified Fire, and West Valley were called in to help SLC Fire Dept. battle the blaze and cover other parts of the city during the fire. One SLC firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion.
SLC Fire crews on Saturday continued to work on hot spots at the junkyard and in the nearby grass fire, which were contained to the center of the area between 700 South, I-80, Bangerter Highway and Wright Bros. Drive.
It was too early on Saturday to estimate monetary damage from the fire. SLC Fire investigators say this is not the first time Rio’s Automotive Recycling has caught on fire; they have responded to fires at this particular business at least three times in recent years.