A large commercial storage building was destroyed by fire in Hughson Saturday evening, but the real headache for firefighters was putting out a pile of 4,000 railroad ties that caught fire in an adjacent outdoor area.
The fire broke out at 7:21 p.m. Saturday in the wood frame building covered by corrugated metal sheathing owned by Hughson Cold Storage at the corner of Santa Fe Avenue and Tully Road. Hughson Fire arrived first but called for mutual aid because of the closest fire hydrant was some distance away and water tenders were needed. Within about four minutes Ceres firefighters were rolling to the scene along with Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Department. Because the building was over 1,000 feet from the nearest fire hydrant, other fire departments that sent water tenders were Keyes, Turlock Rural, Westport and Oakdale.
According to Ceres Fire Captain Mike Lillie, the building was rented by Clark Septic Service and was essentially empty except for welding torches and equipment. The back side storage area was filled by a boat and railroad ties which caught fire.
“Those railroad ties are what really produced the flames and smoke that was seen miles away,” said Lillie, who served as the incident commander.
Approximately eight to 10 propane cylinders were heated by the flames, which caused their pressure values to pop, sounding like explosions. Other explosions were due to oxy-acetylene tanks which exploded. There were reports that the explosion was seen from Empire and heard by residents as far away as Riverbank and Turlock.
“It sounded like a cross between shots being fired and fireworks, about 50 pop sounds,” said Hughson resident Rochelle Snapp on one social media website.
Jose Vasquez, a Tully Road resident, reported seeing a “large mushroom cloud” light up in the night sky. The same sight was reported by Melanee Green who was driving home from work in Turlock.
The fire resulted in the closure of Santa Fe Avenue to traffic and the loss of power to large areas of Hughson as Turlock Irrigation District had to shut down the power grid to replace three power transformers that had exploded during the fire. At no time were any residential structures threatened, officials said.
Hughson firefighters were on scene until 3 a.m. as they had to separate railroad ties by forklifts for individual extinguishing.
Many Hughson residents expressed thankfulness that the fire did not affect nearby Mid Ag where farm chemicals are stored.