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Warehouse Inferno Knocked Down Near Highway 101 In San Jose

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SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Firefighters have contained a dramatic five-alarm warehouse fire in San Jose that shut down two schools and prompted the evacuation of nearby homes this morning, a fire captain said.

The fire was reported at East Julian and North 28th streets at 5:37 a.m.

San Jose fire Capt. Cleo Doss said the first crews arrived at 5:43 a.m. He described the warehouse as a roughly 125,000-square-foot building that houses multiple companies in four or five connected buildings.

Fire Capt. Barry Ehlers said the owner had repeatedly built on additions to the original building.

A part of the building that collapsed is marked with a sign that reads “Dave’s Hay Barn.” A sign on another part of the building reads “Vintage Roof Tile.”

Ehlers said the fire was reported by two Vintage Roof Tile employees this morning. Both workers got out of the building safely.

The employees told firefighters that there were tanks inside the building that contained propane to fuel forklifts, and Ehlers said that may explain why a number of explosions were heard while the fire was burning.

He said much of the warehouse space is vacant but that the building houses a handful of companies including plumbing, hay, sheetrock and insulation businesses.

The fire was contained at about 8:30 a.m. but hot spots continued to burn for hours. There were about 100 firefighters at the scene at the height of the blaze, Doss said.

No injuries have been reported, but Ehlers said four or five homes on nearby West Court were evacuated as a precaution.

The site of the blaze is near U.S. Highway 101, where traffic slowed to a crawl as motorists gaped at the giant plume of black smoke created by the fire.

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Doss said it does not appear that smoke from the fire was a health hazard.

“We have no reason to believe that there’s any hazmat associated with this particular incident,” Doss said. He said, though, that residents with respiratory problems may want to stay indoors.

A representative from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District was sent to the scene to assess the situation.

Roughly 4,045 PG&E customers were without power Thursday morning because the fire department asked PG&E to shut down gas and electrical lines in the area of the blaze, PG&E spokesman J.D. Guidi said.

Guidi said he did know how many homes were without gas service. He said the fire is not believed to be PG&E-related.

Rob Stager, a 33-year-old San Jose resident, said he was supposed to have a job interview at 6 a.m. today at the insulation business at the warehouse.

He got there early, at about 5:20 a.m., because he was extremely eager to get a job, having recently lost his unemployment benefits, he said.

A while later, he noticed smoke coming from what appeared to be branches and brush that had been stacked together, he said.

“It looked like it started on the outside where the train tracks are,” Stager said. “It looks like somebody stacked up some bushes like a tepee.”

He said he was alarmed to see a fire starting at the building where his interview was supposed to happen.

“I hoped to God it wasn’t the right building,” he said.

Stager said he called the fire department and a short time later saw fire coming from the building’s roof.

Fire crews from Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and Mountain View assisted San Jose in battling the blaze.

The fire caused the closure of Empire Garden Elementary School, located at 1060 East Empire St. just north of the warehouse, San Jose Unified School District spokeswoman Traci Cook said.

She said firefighters recommended that the school close, and parents were notified and asked to pick up their students.

Rocketship Discovery Prep, a charter school located about a block away from the warehouse at 370 Wooster Ave., is also closed, a Rocketship administrator said.

She said a call had gone out to parents early this morning notifying them about the closure.

Two other schools lost power because of the fire. Power was shut down around 8 a.m. at Anne Darling Elementary School, at 333 N. 33rd St., and the school remained offline as of 10:45 a.m., Cook said.

Classes are proceeding despite the outage, she said.

At San Jose High School, located at 275 North 24th St. about four blocks from the fire site, power was down for more than an hour starting at around 7:45 a.m., a school secretary said. She said the lights came back on around 9 a.m.

Firefighters told school staff that there were no toxic fumes released by the fire, but to be on the safe side, physical education classes are being held indoors today, she said.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s bus Line 64 has been rerouted around the site of the fire, VTA officials said. Buses are not stopping at the bus stops at 26th and Julian streets.

Passengers who need help planning their trips because of the rerouting can call (408) 312-2300.

The warehouse fire was the second major fire in San Jose today.  Earlier this morning, shortly after 2 a.m., crews were called to a three-alarm fire at a home at South 17th and East San Antonio streets.

Two residents who were asleep when the blaze started were able to escape safely. Crews were still at the scene of that fire when they got the call about the warehouse fire.

© Copyright 2014 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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