On March 31, at 1453 hrs, the Philadelphia Police Department notified Camden County (N.J.) Communications that several cars were on fire at Camden Iron, a vehicle recycling plant in Camden City. “The facility grinds up cars and basically shreds them into little pieces of metal,” says Deputy Chief Dave Yates of the City of Camden Fire Department, who served as incident commander.
Upon arrival, Rescue 1 reported a fire about 50 x 100 feet in size, with flames extending approximately 50 feet in the air, and 30-40 vehicles on fire. “They struck the all-hands box, which brought out another chief (myself), another engine and another truck,” Yates says. “Upon my arrival, I established two water supplies and met with the yard supervisors to account for all personnel in the yard. We cleared the workers out of the area.”
At 1523 hrs, crews had made only minor progress using two ladder pipes and multiple handlines. At 1540 hrs, Camden Iron personnel began using three large cranes to separate and remove cars from the pile. “They picked up the burning cars and dropped them into the grinding machines while still burning,” Yates says. “The fact that the cars were on fire doesn’t affect the machines because the pulverizer creates a lot of heat anyway.” Crews continued hitting the burning cars with handlines and master streams. At 1617 hrs, the fire was declared under control.
“This facility has had fires in the past, so it’s nothing new for our department,” Yates says. “[But] the yard is located in an area of the city where water supply isn’t ample. Our challenges were getting a good water source and making sure we didn’t have runoff that could create an environmental concern.”
One firefighter sustained an injury to his leg as a result of a fall while moving a hoseline; he was transported to a local hospital at 1630 hrs.
“This was one of the larger fires we’ve seen here; it wound up with at least 100 vehicles involved, and you could see it from 10 miles away,” Yates says.