Mike Terry, Deseret News
Firefighters battle three-alarm blaze at Western Metals Recycling near the airport. Thick smoke could be seen across the valley.

Workers moving a 400-gallon tank full of gasoline with a fork lift caused a small explosion and fire in Salt Lake City Thursday when the tank accidentally rolled off the lift.

"Not all the fuel spilled. It caused a spark and then boom," said Salt Lake fire spokesman Scott Freitag.

That explosion and fire, in turn, got into an electrical box, which caused a short and power lines to arc, he said.

By the time the incident was over, a three-alarm fire had consumed about 100 wood pallets and about a half-dozen junk cars.

If not for the quick action of firefighters, the situation could have been much more disastrous.

About 9:45 a.m., firefighters started receiving numerous calls that several items were on fire.

"A structure, grass, a tanker, pallets. ... " said Freitag. "Once crews arrived they realized it was all the same thing."

Workers at Western Metals Recycling, near 4400 West and 700 South, a pallet and scrap metal yard, reported hearing a small explosion near their fuel tankers. They ran outside in time to witness a power surge of some sort that created arcing power lines, sending sparks into several areas of the property and starting multiple fires, Freitag said.

Oscar Pena, who was working at Western Metals when the fire started, said a transformer blew.

"When it blew up, lots of sparks and fire flew onto the roof," he said.

The roof of a small shed caught fire, with the fire then spreading to the stored pallets. A couple of junked cars on the property, used for recycling, also caught fire.

The flames came very close to a 3,000-gallon tanker full of diesel fuel.

"It could have been a massive explosion," he said.

As it was, a thick column of black smoke could be seen across the valley.

"It was just huge. It was this huge plume of smoke," said Keely Perry, who was on her way to the pallet company when the fire started.

Motorists started to cause traffic problems on the Bangerter Highway as they pulled over to watch the spectacle.

"I got off Bangerter. I couldn't believe how tall it was ... it was taller than the power poles," said Jim Pasquin.

About 20 people were on the property working when the fire started. No one was injured. Approximately 75 firefighters needed about an hour to bring the fire under control. Although the flames were spectacular, Freitag said everything that burned happened in a 1-acre area, and none of the business' main buildings were damaged.

Western Metals is located next to another business that was destroyed in a four-alarm fire in June. Central Pallet caught fire after sparks from a train caught dry grass on fire and spread to the business. Freitag said there was no connection between the two incidents.

E-mail: [email protected]