U-Haul van with 600 pounds of chlorine catches fire in Signal Hill, prompts Costco evacuation

A U-Haul moving van with approximately 600 pounds of chlorine caught fire in Signal Hill, which prompted the evacuation of customers from a nearby Costco and residents in the area to shelter in place.

No injuries were reported, but authorities closed off nearby streets and evacuated the area “out of an abundance of caution,” according to county fire spokeswoman Charisma Murillo.

It’s still not clear what may have caused the fire inside the van, as video and eye-witness accounts described grey smoke rolling out of the backside of the vehicle. Murillo said the cause was still under investigation.

Trevor King was shopping at the nearby Costco when the smoke began to pour out.

“By the time I was done shopping it was engulfed in smoke and firefighters were pouring water on it to try to get it out but it smoked a ton,” King said.

King said he quickly got in his car and drove away while trying to avoid the traffic jams that had formed as Long Beach and Signal Hill police closed down portions of Willow Avenue.

Murillo said fire crews were testing the air to check for potential chlorine particles. The smoke coming out of the truck looked like fog, Long Beach resident Casey Carver said.

“It was just a huge amount of smoke,” Carver said. “It went on for blocks and blocks.”

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, exposure to chlorine gas can cause a violent cough, nausea, vomiting among other symptoms. However, Murillo said fire crews did not detect chlorine in the air.

July 16, 2021- U-Haul Fire in parking lot of COSTCO on Willow Street in Signal Hill, CA. I can hear lots of popping coming from the van parked in the parking lot on Willow Street in Signal Hill today at 2:20 PM. The fire burned over 30 minutes in spite of the fire department trying to put it out. The spoke was light grey and not black. Casey Carver

Posted by Casey Carver on Friday, July 16, 2021

This story has been updated with more information from LA County Fire.

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Sebastian Echeverry is the North Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of his grant-funded position with the Long Beach Post. If you want to support Sebastian's work, you can donate to his Report for America position at lbpost.com/support.