ANTIOCH -- A four-alarm fire at a tire shop and a business customizing in classic cars that filled East County skies with caustic black smoke was brought under control in about three hours Tuesday after firefighters struggled to douse the blaze in an area with very few fire hydrants.
Investigators late Tuesday said they arrested one man, possibly in connection with the fire, but didn't immediately release additional details.
Pittsburg police Lt. Ron Raman said in an email that the man was arrested on a warrant and was to be interviewed by fire investigators. Further information on the suspect and the investigation will be handled by the Contra Costa Fire Protection District in the days ahead, Raman said.
Fire officials had earlier said the man was an employee of one of four businesses -- Blue Star Tires, Mt. Diablo Landscape Center, Old School Autoworks and Antioch Convertibles & Auto Upholstery -- that are in at least two buildings that list the location of the fire, 2665 Pittsburg-Antioch Highway, as their address. The fire started about 3:52 p.m. and was brought under control by about 7 p.m.
The cause is under investigation.
The owner of Blue Star Tires said the arrested man was a familiar face because he did occasional odd jobs off and on in recent weeks. But the man "was not my employee," said Abdul Ghafoor, 66, who has owned the tire shop for four years.
Ghafoor also confirmed early reports by investigators that the tire shop was using a mixture of tar and gasoline to improve the appearance of the used tires. He said the practice is common.
"I'm upset," Ghafoor said. "I don't have any business. What am I going to do?"
Two men suffered minor injuries in the blaze, although neither injured man was hospitalized, said Contra Costa Fire Protection District Capt. Robert Marshall. One man drove himself away from the scene with burns on his arms, and another man was treated at the scene for an unspecified injury.
Oakley resident Justin Keusch, who surveyed the wreckage, estimated that the fire may have caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage after scores of classic cars burned.
"This is horrendous," Keusch, 36, said of the damage to a business that refurbished such classic cars as old T-birds and Camaros.
"There are countless hours in those automobiles that got burned," he said. "People think it takes a week to make these classics, because they're used to seeing those (television) shows on them. In real life, to make something perfect, it takes a lot of time, a lot of care and money and tools."
With the tires and other possibly toxic material inside the building, firefighters advised those with asthma and other breathing problems to shut their windows and doors and turn off heating and air-conditioning units, Marshall said. By 8 p.m., that advisory was lifted, because smoke no longer was heavy in the area, Fire Marshall Lewis Broschard said.
A shelter-in-place was not called, authorities said.
Firefighters fought the blaze only from the outside of the buildings because of concerns they would collapse. Making matters more difficult, the nearest fire hydrant was about one-quarter mile away and the next-closest fire hydrant was one mile away, Marshall said. That factor forced firefighters to snake hose along the highway.
Smoke from the incident was visible for miles, and traffic was diverted off the highway near the blaze. The Pittsburg-Antioch Highway was closed between Loveridge Road and Verne Roberts Circle during the incident, causing severe backups on Highway 4.