SALINAS — A fire in a Salinas food processing plant that has prompted authorities to evacuate surrounding neighborhoods has now closed four nearby elementary schools as sunrise approaches Thursday.
City officials announced the closure shortly after 5:30 a.m. Thursday for Lincoln Elementary, Monterey Park Elementary, Sherwood Elementary and Los Padres Elementary.
The order follows orders earlier Thursday morning for shelter-in-place and an evacuation of the area surrounding the fire, which began about 7:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Taylor Farms Processing Facility, a 225,000 square-foot building in the 1200 block of Abbott Street.
The shelter-in-place order affects an estimated 35,000 people at 7,000 addresses and includes the areas south of Constitution Boulevard to Spreckels Avenue and east of Main Street and state Highway 68 to Hartnell Road.
The area evacuated includes 548 addresses and an estimated 2,700 people, straddling U.S. Highway 101 and includes the land between South Main Street, East Alisal Street, Alisal Road and Harris Road.
The evacuation order is due to the potential for an explosion and hazardous plume of ammonia that can change the impacted areas based on shifts in wind direction, according to a 2:19 a.m. news release from city officials.
Nearly 100 firefighters from 22 fire units across Monterey County are reportedly on the scene battling the four-alarm blaze.
“The fire progressed to the point that it poses a significant risk for a potential explosion of ammonia that is located in the plant,” said Sam Klemek, Deputy Fire Chief and Incident Commander. “For that reason, we pulled back our units to a safe area and have begun evacuation notices for the immediate area around the plant.”
Authorities ask the residents in the general area to remain indoors and keep pets inside, close all windows and shut down heating, ventilation and fans.
The evacuation announcement added that officials may need to expand the scene to a full closure of a 1-mile radius of Highway 101 in both directions.
Fire officials are asking the community to avoid the highway and use Old Stage Road as an alternate route.
Early indications are that a welding project sparked a fire in a wall and eventually spread to the attic of the facility, Salinas Fire Chief Michele Vaughn said Wednesday night.
No people or produce were inside the plant, which was closed for the season and was scheduled to reopen Monday.
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