A fire at Metro Metals Recycling in St. Paul over the noon hour Tuesday sent a stack of black smoke high above Hwy. 280 that was visible for miles around.
No injuries were reported, and the blaze near Doswell and Kasota avenues was extinguished in about an hour, said St. Paul Deputy Fire Chief Roy Mokosso.
Fires are not uncommon at facilities like Metro Metals, where old vehicles and appliances are prepared for recycling, Mokosso said. As heavy machinery crushes such items or drags them across the ground, sparks sometimes land on ignitable liquids or combustible material. Staffers at the plant typically extinguish small fires themselves, he said.
This time, black smoke puffed abundantly into the clear blue skies Tuesday shortly before 11:30 a.m., visible from downtown Minneapolis and Highland Park in St. Paul.
Passersby on University Avenue and Hwy. 280 stopped to take photos with their cellphones. An acrid stench was strong in areas surrounding the fire.
The firefighters fought the blaze in a debris pile about 50-by-50-feet in size, extinguishing it before it could spread to nearby structures. A blue excavator could be seen pushing debris away from the fire inside the property.
The smoke was so thick at times that it engulfed the view of firefighters in elevated baskets with hoses trained on the fire. As the fire died, the smoke faded to gray.
The site of the fire was near the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus, but a U spokeswoman said it wasn’t close enough to pose a threat.
A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency spokesman said the agency was actively monitoring the fire. The agency wasn’t asked Tuesday to analyze the smoke but was having “follow-up conversations” regarding stormwater issues, the spokesman said.
The nearest MPCA air monitoring station downwind of the fire is on Lexington Avenue in St. Paul, but it tests carbon monoxide only.
Metro Metals, which has been operating since 2003, was fined $20,000 by the state in 2017 after investigators found the metal recycler had mismanaged hazardous waste and improperly discharged industrial stormwater into a nearby creek.
After receiving tips about discoloration, a noxious odor and an oily film covering Bridal Veil Creek, the MPCA said it found the company improperly discharged its stormwater into the creek multiple times in 2015 and 2016.
Metro Metals also wasn’t storing used oil properly, the agency said. The company, which admitted no wrongdoing, agreed to pay the fine, improve its stormwater system, properly store used oil on the site and document all debris and spill cleanups.
Staff writers Greg Stanley and Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report.