Alex Trinidad, the owner of Affordable Body Works, said he saw a man walk into the big building across the street Tuesday afternoon -- and 10 minutes later black smoke was pouring out.
Forty-five city and county firefighters responded to the three-alarm blaze in east Bakersfield that left an apparently unoccupied industrial building in ruins.
The calls started coming in at 3:15 p.m., Kern County Fire Department Capt. Sean Collins said at the scene of the fire on Washington Street, north of East California Avenue. By the time the first units arrived, the 3,000-square-foot wood structure was fully engulfed.
Firefighters had to cut through a chain-link fence to gain access to the abandoned building surrounded by corrugated metal structures, buildings Trinidad believes were once part of a now-defunct cotton storage and processing center.
There were some concerns about low water pressure, Collins said, but Kern County and Bakersfield city firefighters working side by side quickly beat down the flames until only white smoke rose from the building's skeletal remains.
"Fantastic cooperation between the two agencies helped to bring this fire under swift control," Collins said.
He said the building was apparently an unoccupied storage unit. Since it was constructed of wood it burned quickly.
Two huge metal structures just north of the affected building were saved, Collins said. But some vehicles parked across the street appear to have been damaged by the heat.
Collins could not confirm whether squatters had access to the building, but Trinidad, who works nearby, said it wasn't unusual to see people moving in and out of it.
"Weve been having issues lately," he said.
The ruined building, Trinidad said, is believed to have been a truck scale used to weigh cotton deliveries back in the days when cotton was king in Kern County.