Cause of scrap metal fire elusive

Published December 6, 2007

TAMPA - Fire officials are unable to pinpoint the cause of the two-day scrap metal fire that spread noxious smoke from the Port of Tampa to southern coastal communities last week.

Capt. Bill Wade of Tampa Fire Rescue said workers had to scatter the 6,000-ton pile of burning scrap to extinguish it, making it harder for fire investigators to determine exactly where and how the metal mountain ignited.

A Trademark Metals Recycling employee was starting work just before 6 a.m. Friday when he called 911 to report smoke rising from the pile, Wade said.

Trademark, at 4201 Maritime Blvd., recycles metal for export to other countries, including Mexico, China and locations in South America. Items shredded for export include household appliances and automobiles.

Among the materials burning deep within the flaming hill Friday were paper, rubber, plastics, and residual oil, gasoline and other flammable liquids, Wade said. It is not unusual, he said, for a car battery to be in the pile.

Though no one on the scene was injured and no buildings were damaged, the Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission issued a notice to residents that elevated levels of air pollution could create difficulties for people with respiratory issues or high sensitivity to smoke.

The EPC's Alain Watson said the agency is evaluating the environmental impact of the burn. It is also checking to see if the company is in compliance with its required permits.

Ron Laker, president of Trademark, said the fire was unusual. The company has 17 locations in Florida and has been operating for more than 40 years. It employs 40 people at that site and 200 at five locations around the Tampa area.