Road sealer identified as chemical in Caltrans haz mat fire

A firefighter is blown backward by a combination of wind and heat from a fire that broke out on Thursday near Sierra Highway and Via Princessa. According to officials on scene, hazardous materials were possibly burned during the blaze. Katharine Lotze/Signal

Two barrels of a chemical used as a sealer to coat bridges are what exploded into a ball of flames at a Caltrans yard in Santa Clarita Thursday, state and county officials told The Signal Friday.

A wind-whipped fire started a one-acre brush fire near Via Princessa in Canyon Country shortly after 11:45 a.m. Thursday, igniting the chemical-laden barrels.

Fire engines racing to the scene rolled through thick black smoke discharging from the scene as the flames about 60 to 100 feet high roared over the lanes of the freeway entrance.

“This was a chemical used to coat bridges,” Presierras said. “The fire started with a brush fire, the trajectory of where that fire went – because of the wind – went right through that (Caltrans) yard.

The barrels contained a sealer known as KBP204, said Mario Presierras, supervisor of the Health Hazardous Materials unit of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Each of the barrels containing the sealer was large enough to contain 42 gallons.

Flames whipped up by the chemical posed a significant challenge for firefighters trying to bring it under control.

“Another 50 feet south and it would have missed it (the barrels) entirely,” Presierras said. “Anytime you have a chemical like this you want to avoid breathing it in, it’s not healthy. You want to stay out of the trajectory.”

Heavy afternoon winds pushed the inferno higher. By noon flames had jumped the on-ramp lanes and ignited brush near Costco.

Caltrans lot

The Health Haz Mat unit is mandated to protect the public health and the environment throughout Los Angeles County from accidental releases and improper handling, storage, transportation, and disposal of hazardous materials,” according to the unit’s website.

Presierras said he received no health complaints due to air quality affected by the fire.

Caltrans spokesman Patrick Chandler told The Signal Friday that the barrels were stored according to government regulations.

“The yard belongs to Caltrans,” he said. “We have to abide by state regulations. Parts of the yard were burned but, fortunately, no one was hurt.”

Health risk

The chemical contained within the barrels – KBP204 – is a methacrylate, commonly used a sealer or “penetrant” for re-bonding and sealing shrinkage or related cracking in cement.

Manufacturers of KBP204 boast that once the chemical is applied to a structure such as a road or bridge, the end result is “re-bonded crack”  that resists the ingress of moisture or other environmental contaminants.

The chemical should be stored in a cool, dry location at temperatures less than 80F, according to company that makes it. Temperatures yesterday reached  mid-90s.

The company recommends workers wear appropriate protective clothing, gloves, and eye protection. For most outdoor applications the use of an organic vapor respirator is not required by OSHA.

It warns that continued contact with the skin, especially catalyzed material, may lead to redness, swelling, blisters, or other effects. Sensitive workers may react much more rapidly.

No ground threat

The subsequent flash fire broke out shortly before 11:50 a.m. in a dirt lot between the on-ramp and off-ramps to Highway 14 from and to Sierra Highway, according to County Fire Public Information Representative Joey Napoli.

According to a Hazardous Materials Spill Report filed Thursday with the Governor’s Office Emergency Services:  None of the sealer – identified in the report as “an unknown solvent” – was “released to the ground”  because it had “burned up in the fire” and no waterways or drinking water were impacted.

No one was injured in the incident, according to the report.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services was set up in 1943 to look after emergency management.


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