San Jose officials have issued a shelter-in-place advisory for residents living or working near a San Jose Home Depot that erupted into flames Saturday evening, sending a thick plume of gray smoke into the air and forcing widespread evacuations.
Residents in the area of the Home Depot store located at 920 Blossom Hill Road are advised to stay inside, close all windows and doors and turn off any air conditions systems, according to a city-issued emergency alert.
As of 10 p.m. Saturday, crews were continuing to battle the massive, five-alarm blaze. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
San Jose Fire Batallion Chief Brad Cloutier called the Home Depot store “pretty much a total loss.” “The roof has pretty much collapsed,” he said during a news briefing, adding that materials inside like paint thinner, lumber and other flammable elements made this blaze uniquely challenging to extinguish.
Councilman Matt Mahan, who represents the district and lives just a quarter-mile from the home improvement store, said in an interview late Saturday night that the air in his neighborhood — as well as inside of his own home — smelled like “chemicals” and “burning plastic.”
“I’m sure the air quality is not healthy to breathe,” he said, adding that he was still trying to get more information from city officials and first responders.
At about 5:30 p.m. Saturday, dispatchers received numerous calls from employees and patrons about a commercial structure fire, according to Cloutier. The Home Depot Store store, which is located in a shopping center across from the Westfield Oakridge Mall, quickly went up in flames, sending customers and employees fleeing.
Video footage shared on social media by San Jose resident Philip Hurst depicted a frightening scene in which large, fiery embers fell from the ceiling inside the store while Home Depot employees stood outside the doorway, yelling at people: “Get out of the building!”
Hurst, who was shopping inside the home improvement store before the fire, said he did not smell any smoke nor see any signs of a possible fire while shopping or checking out. But when he was putting his items in his car, he saw people rushing out of the store and went back to see what the commotion was about.
“I don’t know how it started, but it spread fast,” he said in a message. On his drive home, Hurst said pieces of ash measuring the size of a dinner plate were falling from the sky.
— Philip Hurst (@pshurst) April 10, 2022
At least 30 fire units with 100 firefighters responded to the scene, some of which were deployed to a neighborhood south of the store in order to prevent any damage to nearby homes. There have been no reports of injuries or missing people, Cloutier said during a news briefing at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Other nearby businesses, including Petco and the Wagly Veterinary Hospital and Pet Campus, were also forced to evacuate in haste.
Rocky Olivares, who used to work at the Home Depot store, said he immediately responded to the scene when he heard about the fire to make sure his former coworkers were safe. When he arrived, Home Depot had already been evacuated but he said it appeared the flames were spreading to the Wagly Veterinary Hospital.
Concerned about the employees and pets still inside, Olivares said he ran into the pet hospital and began helping get people and pets out safely. Some of the dogs escaped on their own, he said, adding that he was unsure whether or not employees caught them before they made a run for it.
“It was smoky in the building,” he said. “You could see but there was a thermal layer and there was already a layer of smoke.”
The veterinary hospital received some smoke and water damage from firefighters working to prevent the fire spread, he said, but the extent of the damage is unclear.
The Home Depot fire, which put off a hefty plume of smoke that could be seen across the South Bay, broke out several hours after another massive blaze erupted Saturday afternoon at an East Bay port, similarly enveloping nearby communities in thick smoke.
At about 2 p.m. Saturday, a fire was reported at the Port of Benicia. The fire was quickly elevated from a three to a four-alarm fire as it engulfed a long, wooden dock on the Carquinez Strait near the Benicia-Martinez Bridge on Interstate 680. No injuries were reported, according to officials.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism