Firefighters are trying to determine what sparked a three-alarm building fire that forced the evacuation of nearby businesses and prevented access to Highway 243 in Banning Thursday morning.
The fire was reported about 8 a.m. in a 15,000-square-foot building at Lincoln Street and San Gorgonio Avenue and it produced a black plume of smoke that was visible in the Coachella Valley.
“There were multiple reports of explosions when the fire started,” Cal Fire Capt. Fernando Herrera said at the scene. "There wasn't any one spot you could say wasn't on fire."
Eighty-two firefighters responded to the blaze and the fire was contained by 10:45 a.m.
The business is Apollo Masters Corp., a decades-old company that produces a lacquer formula for making master discs which are then used to make vinyl records. Employees were inside when the fire began, but Herrera said none of them were injured.
The company could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Riverside County Environmental Health officials will investigate whether the environment was impacted by harmful chemicals used at the facility.
Banning staff said there was no indication the city's water supply was affected, but fire officials warned of runoff that came from fire hoses and entered drainage that led to a creek bed.
Authorities cordoned off a 3,000-foot radius and businesses across the street from the fire were evacuated.
Occupants of homes and businesses a block away were ordered to shelter in place. They were allowed to leave their properties, but could not re-entered the closed area.
Banning High School was just outside the closed area and Herrera said students and staff weren't affected beyond having to go around the closed area once classes let out for the day.
Also impacted were motorists using Highway 243 to and from Idyllwild, since it exits onto San Gorgonio Avenue. All traffic was detoured around the fire scene.
Banning residents said they had no interest in approaching the fire as it burned.
"I could smell the smoke from my living room and it was bad," said Christina De La Rosa, 49. "I saw it from my window and debated whether I should leave or not. I thought there might be an explosion."
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Desert Sun reporter Colin Atagi covers crime, public safety and road and highway safety. He can be reached at Colin.Atagi@desertsun.com or follow him at @tdscolinatagi. Support local news, subscribe to The Desert Sun.
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