Firefighters from Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon, and Stanislaus County were sent to 17 different fires in Stockton Thursday afternoon including one that temporarily shut down Interstate 5 due to wind-whipped smoke creating zero visibility.
Wind gusts that reached more than 40 miles an hour spread embers from two fires that first broke out at 3:30 p.m. at a recycling center in the 800 block of West Church Street and a railroad yard near I-5 and Highway 4. It was fueled by large bales of recycled paper and creosote soaked railroad ties. It was the railroad ties that caused the heavy black smoke billowing into the sky that could be seen for miles.
Heavy smoke settling on I-5 near the Crosstown Freeway prompted the Highway Patrol to close the main West Coast freeway in both directions because of limited visibility until firefighters could gain some control on the blazes. Numerous water tankers were called in from other departments in the county to provide sources of water for the responding engines.
The Manteca Fire Department as well as the Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department put out a call for off-duty firefighters to respond to their stations to back up their men and equipment already dispatched to the fires.
Cylinders of propane at the Recycle Fibers of California facility blew up shooting out shrapnel and embers that were believed to have torched the wider area. Other fires were believed to have been started some two to three miles away down wind. There were numerous vegetation, roof and trash fires reported from the original blazes.
The American Red Cross responded to the scene and staged at Ivy and Fairmont streets where they were available to those burned out of their homes or businesses.
A few years back another wind-whipped fire along Interstate 5 burned 28 homes.