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Fire chief: Sulphur fire could have spelled disaster
Sulphur fire
Modesto firefighters decontaminate after fighting the Stanislaus Farm Supply sulpher warehouse fire on Service Road. - photo by Courtesy of Modesto Fire Department

A potentially disastrous situation was averted Monday thanks to the quick action of Modesto and other firefighters who battled a fire that broke out in a warehouse building containing sulfur at Stanislaus Farm Supply in southwest Ceres.

To prevent the inhalation of toxic smoke from the fire, a 12-hour shelter-in-place advisory was issued for those living within one mile of the Service Road facility while more than 50 personnel worked at the scene, including firefighters from other agencies, police and the Department of Environmental Resources. 

Crews confined the fire to a smoldering 500-ton pile of fertilizer sulfur within one of the buildings. Fire crews remained on scene overnight into Tuesday to monitor the situation. 

“When we heard the dispatch it’s one of those dispatches that is one of the worst fears of a fire chief and a firefighter responding to that type of incident,” said Modesto Fire Department Chief Allen Ernst. “We’ve seen horrific videos from throughout the country where those have been catastrophic.”

Authorities traced the cause of the fire to a flash flame caused as an employee replaced a burned-out light bulb inside a large warehouse containing the fertilizer. Floating sulfur dust particles can be set off at the slightest spark or simple static electricity, according to Dustin Bruley of the Stanislaus Regional Fire Investigation Unit.

Stanislaus Farm Supply employees did their best to extinguish the fire but firefighters were required to get a handle on it. The attack included dousing the pile with water and breaking up the pile with heavy equipment.

He said he was proud of the response to the fire.

The Ceres Fire Department was turned over to the Modesto Fire Department in August 2021.