An air quality alert has been issued in northern Iowa, near Mason City, because of a raging fire at a junk yard full of crushed cars.

Thousands of crushed cars are a blaze at this hour at the Behr Mason City scrap metal facility in the Emery Township between Mason City and Clear Lake. Firefighters were called out at around 5:20 this morning to the blaze which shot flames a couple of hundred feet into the air at times and bellowed clouds of smoke covering the western parts of Mason City.

Cerro Gordo County Emergency Management Coordinator Steve O’Neil says the hardest part of fighting this fire is the lack of water service to the area. “According to the plant manager here there’s approximately 5000 cars in that pile,” O’Neil says. “There is no actual hydrant system out here so they have to truck all the water in so it makes it very hard to make a very large, sustained attack on it so (fire fighters) are in a defensive (position) now.”

No one’s life is at risk, according to O’Neil. Fire Fighters are just trying to keep the fire from spreading to other property. O’Neil says there’s not much firefighters can do to put out a blaze involving crushed cars. “You can add foam and such but you usually will create a bigger problem,” O’Neil says. “With the water supply, it’s just not possible to sustain that kind of an attack.”

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has issued an air quality alert and O’Neil says the DNR has workers in place to keep track of the air quality. “There are personnel (who) are monitoring to the north of the fire and they are looking at where this smoke is going, what it is doing downstream and they’ll let us know if there are any health concerns,” O’Neil says. “You have basically cars here with regular carbon material that’s burning…you have your residue fuel oil, some of the seat material, foam and such. You can see the dense smoke that’s going up and creating quite a cloud down there…so they do want to monitor it to make sure there (are) no health concerns.”

State officials recommend that residents in the area who have asthma or other respiratory conditions avoid the western portions of Mason City due to the smoke created by the fire. Residents and businesses in the affected areas are being advised to shut their windows. The DNR says it is acceptable to keep window or central air conditioning systems running.

Fire Departments from Mason City, Clear Lake, Ventura and Swaledale are shuttling water to the scene.