‘An unstable situation’: Firefighters recount battling flames erupting from Smithfield junkyard


SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — When firefighters arrived at the Five Stars Auto Salvage yard and saw a bright, orange glow lighting up the sky, they knew they were in a for a long night.

“Our chief called it a pretty severe situation,” Lt. Rob Starkey recalled. “He said you could see a column of smoke from probably about two or three miles away.”

Starkey said his truck was the first to pull up to the Smithfield junkyard Monday night. He described the situation as tense, and said they were immediately tasked with knocking down the flames that were erupting from dozens of used or junk cars in the lot.

“This was one of the biggest [fires] I’ve seen in my career,” Starkey said.

Firefighter Joe Notarantonio said getting water on the fire took some time, since the nearest fire hydrant was thousands of feet away from the entrance to the yard.

“It was really hectic, but once we got the [hoses] down, got our supplies and got our members in position … it was just game time,” Notarantonio said.

When all was said and done, Smithfield Fire Chief Bob Seltzer estimated that they deployed approximately 8,000 feet of hose to get the water from the hydrant and responding tankers to the fire itself.

“We had to bring a lot of hose and spread it out over four acres or so … so there’s a lot of hose out there,” Seltzer said.

Starkey said they didn’t return to the station until 3 a.m., adding that they had to go back to the scene to clean up later Tuesday morning.

While roughly 100 cars went up in flames, the firefighters were grateful that the fire was contained to the lot and no one was injured.

“It was definitely a dangerous situation, with all of the cars stacked up high,” Notarantonio said. “It was just an unstable situation going into it, but I think everyone did a great job. No one got hurt and everyone went home safe.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation at this time, though Seltzer admitted that it’s not uncommon for a fire to break out inside a junkyard like this one.

“It’s just a large dump fire basically, it’s typical,” Seltzer said. “We’ve had fires here in the past caused by welding, [as in] they were welding during the day and set some cars on fire … we don’t know what happened here [this time], but it’s not unusual.”

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