The board of supervisors declared a local emergency Tuesday in the wake of last week's explosive fire at a Maywood warehouse, saying hazardous levels of magnesium were found in the fire ash.
Supervisor Hilda Solis recommended the declaration and also proposed reaching out to Gov. Jerry Brown to ask that he declare a state emergency. Both motions were unanimously approved.
"Over 300 residents were impacted,'' Solis said. "Many were not able to go back to their homes because of the high level of magnesium."
Local news from across Southern California
It took nearly three days for the blaze, which broke out June 14, to be fully extinguished.
Families living on the south side of 52nd Street were cleared to go back into their homes last Wednesday evening, but those closer to the fire sheltered at the local YMCA.
The Maywood YMCA doesn't have air conditioning, so when temperatures soared this weekend, county officials helped residents move into area hotels.
Twelve properties on the north side of Fruitland Avenue remain evacuated Tuesday, according to a health department spokesman.
The emergency declarations are intended to free up funding for food, shelter and other assistance for the displaced families. The county's declaration ratifies a proclamation that Solis signed Saturday during a visit to the American Red Cross disaster shelter in Maywood and makes $125,000 available.
On Friday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District announced that samples from areas around the fire scene had been tested, and a preliminary analysis "showed ambient metal concentrations did not exceed short-term, health-based thresholds.
"The information ... only pertains to the results from preliminary metals sampling near the incident," the SCAQMD said. "Additional laboratory analysis is still underway for other pollutants and from other sampling locations. Updates will be provided as results become available."
Later testing by the county's Department of Public Health in coordination with the federal Environmental Protection Agency found metals on the northern side of East 52nd Street between Maywood and Everett avenues, according to a statement by the Department of Public Health. Authorities said the EPA will clean the affected houses, but did not detail the number of homes involved, the specific metals identified or the levels of contamination.
The three-alarm fire at 3570 Fruitland Avenue — reported at 2:30 a.m. June 14 — ripped through a pair of commercial buildings early the first morning, sparking a series of strong explosions and sending a thick plume of noxious smoke over the region.
Firefighters found flames shooting through the roofs of two structures, a warehouse and a metal-recycling plant.
Crews began pouring water on the flames, but the oxygen from the water created a chemical reaction with the burning magnesium, one of the metals being stored at the facility and awaiting recycling, producing what one fire official described as "fireballs" and setting off strong explosions.
In addition to magnesium, other metals such as copper, zinc and lead were present at the site, along with chemicals and propane, according to County Fire Chief Daryl Osby.
DPH officials identified the location as Panda International Trading and said it housed two businesses, Panda International Trading and Sokor Metals.
PIT is a scrap metal yard and Sokor Metals is a business that recovers precious metals from circuit boards and other electronics, according to DPH.
Owner Da Xiong Pan and Panda International Trading Co. Inc. were charged April 28 with five felony counts related to improper storage and disposal of hazardous materials at the site, which did not have a permit to handle hazardous waste, according to a criminal complaint.
The alleged violations date back to June 2013 and involve copper, lead, zinc, cadmium, nickel and chromium.
Pan pleaded not guilty last month and is set to return to court July 15, when a date is expected to be set for a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The two commercial structures were destroyed, however, an estimate of damage is not yet available.
Solis said monitoring and assessment of the site was ongoing.