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Electrical short was source of plastics fire

December 14, 1999

Greg Risling

COSTA MESA -- An electrical short in a cluttered storage area may have

sparked a major fire last week that gutted a plastics company,

investigators announced Monday.

Fire officials said they are still looking into the possibility that a

manager who charged up machine heaters before employees came to work may

have also turned on other power switches before he left.

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"He may have turned on the electricity to the area we believe where the

fire originated," said Costa Mesa Fire Marshal Tom Macdouss. "However, it

was an accidental fire."

The fire nearly leveled Newport Plastics Inc. on Airport Loop early

Thursday morning. Dark plumes of smoke rose into the sky near John Wayne

Airport as firefighters battled the blaze for 90 minutes. No one was

injured. A dog named Cheetos, who belonged to the owner of the building,

died in the fire.

As the smoke billowed Thursday, some onlookers and company employees were

fearful of the toxic fumes they were inhaling. Health officials tested

the area and didn't find any high levels of toxics that were a concern.

Macdouss said the fire appears to have started in a large storage area

that holds the company's raw and finished products along with some

manufacturing equipment. Investigators believe an electrical outlet may

have short-circuited and caused the fire.

Initial damage estimates may exceed $2.5 million because it is unknown

whether some of the expensive equipment inside the building will be

salvageable.

"I wouldn't attempt to put a number on that loss," Macdouss said. "There

are a lot of plastic molds that are very expensive that could be used at

a later time."

Investigators have spent the past three days sifting through the remains.

The job was hampered further by the plastics that first melted under

extreme heat and then hardened after it cooled.

Although some neighbors complained about the company's housekeeping, fire

officials said Newport Plastics had passed previous inspections with

flying colors.

"They are pretty clean every time we check them out," Macdouss added. "We

do an inspection at least once a year, and we haven't found any

problems."

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