PERRIS (CBSLA) -- It took more than five hours for firefighters to extinguish a blaze which destroyed a Salvation Army warehouse in Perris Tuesday, destroying millions of dollars of items, spreading to a nearby field and shutting down traffic in the process.
The blaze was reported just after 3:30 p.m. outside a furniture warehouse located next to the Salvation Army & Family Store at 24201 Orange Ave., according to Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department.
The warehouse is detached from the store itself. The fire sparked in an area between the two buildings, before spreading to the 100,000 square-foot warehouse.
"There were numerous reports initially that there was some sort of outside fire between the two buildings," CAL Fire Capt. Fernando Herrera told CBSLA Wednesday. "So the annex building, which is their large storage building, and then the Salvation Thrift store building to the east. There was some sort of outside fire near the loading dock area which had extended into this large storage area."
The men who work in the facility are recovering from addiction through a work rehabilitation program at the site. They sort furniture in the warehouse to get it ready for sale at thrift stores and stay in a shelter next door, also run by the Salvation Army.
"I was almost in tears," said Assistant Resident Manager Julian Garcia. "My first reaction was just to get the guys out."
"We heard an explosion next door and I came down and, right away, evacuated everyone in the building," Garcia explained, adding that the shelter is safe, but the warehouse is a total loss.
Flames burned about one acre in a nearby field and quickly blanketed Interstate 215 with heavy smoke, which caused some delays near Nuevo Road.
Authorities said that the wooden furniture stored inside the facility fueled the intense flames, making it harder for firefighters to contain them.
"The entire building was full of all that material that's donated, from furniture to clothing, that's a lot of heavy fuel load, so once the fire extended inward when we arrived, it was just a matter of time before the entire building was involved," Herrera said.
Residents said that the proximity of the flames to the freeway made the fire more concerning.
"This could, because it's so close, definitely jump the freeway easily," said neighbor Jennifer Miller. "On the other side are homes."
Garcia said they are not sure what started the fire. The men have been transported to another Salvation Army shelter to stay until the site is safe to return to.
The fire was contained by 9 p.m., CAL Fire reported. No one was hurt. The loss from the fire was estimated at $3.5 million.
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