Fire burns vehicles at Richmond auto junkyard

RICHMOND (KTVU & BCN) - The Richmond Parkway has reopened hours after a fire in an auto wrecking yard that burned 200 cars, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The fire sent a huge column of black smoke into the air and forced nearby residents to shelter in their homes for nearly three hours.

Firefighters first responded to the fire at West Gertrude Avenue and Richmond Parkway a little after 7 a.m. and issued the shelter-in-place order for neighborhoods in the immediate area at about 8 a.m.

Crews had the fire under control by about 10 a.m. and lifted the shelter-in-place order at about 10:50 a.m., according to Contra Costa County Fire Protection District Fire Marshal Robert Marshall.

Richmond Parkway remained closed in both directions from Pittsburg Avenue to Gertrude Avenue until 12:43 p.m.

It's not clear what started the fire, which burned about 200 cars, but it appears to be accidental, Marshall said.

The fire seems to have started in one car and spread quickly to many others partly due to the strong winds that were blowing through the area at the time, Marshall said.

The cars in the wrecking yard are stacked on top of each other and the fire was able to easily jump from one car to another. No injuries were reported and no structures burned, Marshall said.

The blaze started in a place where cars are initially brought in before tires and fluids are removed.

"The vehicles that are here still have batteries perhaps, the still have oil, they still have gasoline and with all the rain and wind is possible that something happened that caused a battery to short and that could have been an ignition source," Marshall said.

Crews have been continually conducting air quality monitoring during the incident.

The fire was listed as one-alarm but required additional, specialized crews and equipment from the nearby Chevron Richmond Refinery.

The Chevron crews provided the foam fire retardant that was the key to eventually dousing the blaze, Marshall said. Fish and Wildlife as well as EPA officials said they detected no stream or waterway pollution from the runoff, which was largely confined to the property and neighboring side road.

KTVU reporter Tom Vacar contributed to this report.