A massive four-alarm fire ripped through a pallet making business on Salt Lake City's westside Saturday night, destroying at least two buildings and an unknown number of trailers and wooden pallets.
The fire at Central Pallet, near 850 South and 4400 West, is the second at the business in two years. Investigators believe sparks from a passing train may have started a grass fire that quickly spread to the business.
If a train is confirmed to be the cause, it would be the second large fire in two years at Central Pallet, both started the same way and both causing heavy damage.
Saturday's fire was reported about 7:30 p.m. A plume of thick black smoke could be seen throughout the valley, luring a large crowd of on-lookers that at one point clogged a portion of the Bangerter Highway to a standstill. Flames shot 50 to 100 feet into the air.
It was a call from an passer-by that first reported the fire, said Salt Lake Fire Capt. Karleen Montanez.
Lou Rio, who works in an auto recycle yard on the other side of the railroad tracks next to Central Pallet, said the fire grew quickly.
"I saw a very small bit of smoke rising into the air. Then I turned away for a minute...I looked again and it was massive by then."
Central Pallet is closed on Saturdays, so no workers were in that area when the fire started. Other adjacent businesses had employees at work. No one was injured.
The flames ignited into an inferno as they were fueled by wood products and propane tanks from the pallet yard. More than a dozen small explosions were heard.
"(The fire) reached a rack of propane cylinders. They were in a row. They were exploding one at a time," said Montanez.
About 100 firefighters from across the Salt Lake valley assisted in battling the fire. Montanez said because of the intense flames combined with the already hot day, firefighters had to be rotated on a regular basis to prevent heat exhaustion.
The fire also spread into an adjacent business, Applied Insulation. Some trailers from that business were reportedly in the fire's path, but the extent of damage was unconfirmed Saturday night.
Fire crews expected to be at the fire all night watching for hot spots to flare up.
A similar fire ripped through the business almost two years ago to the day. The June 30, 2006 fire was also started by sparks from a train starting a grass fire. That fire was three alarms.
One man, who didn't give his name but said he was related to the owner, said just from giving the yard an initial look, Saturday's fire appeared to be worse.Owners were not expected to be allowed to get a close-up look at what was damaged until Sunday at the earliest.