Two-alarm fire burns at SLC recycling plant, sends plume of smoke visible around Salt Lake Valley

Editor's note: there is a photo of a kitten that was badly burned in this story. The image could be upsetting for sensitive viewers.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Strong winds fueled a two-alarm fire at a recycling center in Salt Lake City Thursday afternoon, sending a thick, black plume of smoke into the air that could be spotted from around the Salt Lake Valley.

Salt Lake City Fire said the fire started in the outdoor yard at Rocky Mountain Recycling, located at 2950 West 900 South, around 1:30 p.m.

Workers could be heard yelling to each other and making sure fire fighters knew about a propane tank in the yard. Men and women in bright orange and yellow vests ran out of the plant, as they escaped from the smoke and flames.

Larry Gibbons, Rocky Mountain Recycling Vice President of Sales and Marketing, said around 50 employees work at the plant and that they did a great job alerting everyone to the fire, and evacuating according to plan.

Salt Lake City Fire Captain Dan Marlow said they stationed crews north of the plant, to make sure debris didn't blow away in the wind and catch anything else on fire. The flames started to approach one of the plant's buildings.

"It appears that it did encroach onto one small area of the structure, but the structure itself remains largely intact," Marlowe said. "We're working toward salvaging the equipment inside of the structure and putting the rest of the fire out."

Courtesy Mario Sanchez

Bystander Lacee Bradford said she saw fire fighters bring out a kitten they rescued from the fire. She said they wrapped it in a towel, brought water to the burned cat.

"It was honestly amazing to see a big fire fighter bring out this tiny little cat in the whole midst of the chaos of a fire," she said. "They still cared about a tiny little kitten."

A couple hours later, Salt Lake City Fire said the fire was under control, however crews spent all evening pulling apart piles and bales of material and soaking everything with two ladder trucks, to make sure all smoldering items were out.

Marlowe said the fire appeared to be accidental, and that they were investigating the exact cause.

Gibbons explained that the part of the yard where the fire started is an area that trucks dump paper, cardboard and plastic that they haul in from across the Wasatch Front. He said that items like lithium batteries end up being brought in with the loads, and can start fires.

He said that the plant has strict policies when it comes to smoking and open flames, specifically to make sure no fires are started.

"We don't know what the damage is, we don't know how much product was lost," Gibbons siad. "Most important thing was everybody was out, safe."