Chemical Blast, Fire Prompts Evacuations

A commercial building with chemicals inside goes up in flames, forcing evacuations in East County.

It happened around 12:35 p.m. Tuesday in Santee at 10503 Mission Gorge Road near Magnolia Avenue, a dispatcher with Heartland fire said.  Officials said the building housed an old spa store that is no longer in business. 

Officials said a chemical explosion started the fire.  The explosion was big enough to cause a hole in the wall of the building and start a fire on a fence behind the building.  When firefighters arrived they saw a plume of white smoke and smelled the chlorine and declared it a hazardous materials incident.

"We noticed white smoke and noticed that it had a chlorine odor to it," said Deputy Chief Richard Mattick of the Santee Fire Department. 

HazMat crews were called to the scene after witnesses reported a foul smell in the air.  Mattick said the explosion took place when an employee was cleaning up the chemicals.  The man was not injured.  Five other people were injured in the incident, including three sheriff's deputies and one firefighter. 

The chemical nature of the incident forced officials to call for nearby residents of an apartment complex on Magnolia Ave. and at Cameron's Mobile Home Park to take precautions. 

"We told them to shelter-in-place, essentially close the doors and windows," said Mattick.

Fire officials said the explosion is part of a dangerous new trend.

"As businesses go out throughout the city, they may leave hazardous materials waste behind or on the premises of their businesses.  And we do hope they take care of them.  And if not we do hope the public is aware of it and knows not to get into it and report it to authorities right away," said Mattick.

As a result of the blast and fire, Mission Gorge was shut down, causing traffic tie-ups during the afternoon commute.

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