Firefighters put out smoky fire at scrap plant

A car being cut apart caught fire Monday on a West Wilson Street property where the owner had been ordered to stop all auto wrecking, scrap or junk yard activity.

City police and fire departments both responded for a report of a large amount of black smoke at 1:45 p.m., initially in the area of West Pershing Street, west of the railroad tracks.

Capt. Shawn Mesler of the Salem Fire Department said smoke was coming out in multiple locations from the roof of the old Pittsburgh Foundry building which has an address in the 400 block of West Wilson Street but stretches almost to West Pershing Street on the west side of the railroad tracks.

A worker inside the building was trying to cut up the frame of a car when the gasoline tank caught on fire, Mesler said. He had it partially extinguished when firefighters arrived and put the fire out the rest of the way.

The fire department report said, “Upon entry we found an employee that advised he had been cutting on a scrap vehicle inside the structure with a cutting torch. The vehicle’s gas tank caught on fire when he flipped the car over.”

A police department report about the incident also mentioned that a worker at the business advised he was cutting apart an old car which caused the smoke.

The former Pittsburgh Foundry property is now owned by Bob Courtney, who also owns the Downtown Metals & Recyling business on West Pershing Street.

City Planning & Zoning Officer Patrick Morrissey sent a cease and desist letter dated April 22 to Courtney of Courtney Enterprises for the parcels on West Wilson Street, telling him to stop any activity related to auto wrecking, scrap or junk yards at the West Wilson Street site.

The property abuts the Downtown Metals & Recycling business he operates on West Pershing Street, but the order to cease and desist in the letter was referring only to activities on the West Wilson Street property. Downtown Metals & Recycling remains open for business.

In the letter, Morrissey referred to a previous letter dated Nov. 22, 2013 which notified Courtney about two ordinances passed by Salem City Council prohibiting auto wrecking, scrap or junk yard activity in M-1 Light Industrial Zone Districts or M-2 Heavy Industrial Zone Districts.

The earlier letter explained that the property on West Wilson Street was in an M-2 Heavy Industrial Zone District and a scrap/junk yard type operation would not be permitted there. The ordinances passed by council on Sept. 17, 2013 took effect on Oct. 17, 2013.

“Recently, photographic evidence has revealed that you have ignored this warning because this property is being used for auto wrecking and as a scrap or junk yard,” Morrissey said in the recent cease and desist notice.

A message was left for Courtney on Monday asking him to contact the Salem News, but he was not reached for comment. He had, however, sent an email regarding Saturday’s article about the cease and desist order.

In the email, Courtney said “we feel we are not in violation of the new ordinance as we purchased the Pittsburgh Foundry property in July 2013 and began preparing scrap immediately there after. Also we purchased the property based primarily on the suggestion of the city so we could do our processing of materials inside a building which we have done.”

The city had previously accused Downtown Metals & Recycling of violating the zoning code by cutting up items outside at the West Pershing Street property, with Councilman Clyde Brown continuously claiming the business was in violation. The business and the city talked several times about the problems and the business was later found in compliance after some changes were made to the operation.

Council first proposed the amendments to prohibit auto wrecking, junk yard and scrap yards from M-1 and M-2 zoning districts last June, but the legislation didn’t get finalized or become law until the fall. Brown voted against the amendments, saying the current law just needed enforced.

He raised an issue about the West Wilson Street property last month regarding alleged violations to the new rules prohibiting auto wrecking, junk yards or scrap yards.