California crematorium malfunction sends smoke, human ashes into air

SAN DIEGO – Smoke containing human remains billowed out of a California crematorium Thursday when an oven door was stuck open while the furnace was in use.

National City Fire Captain Brian Krepps confirmed that crews were called to Cortez Cremations and Funeral Services shortly after noon to help close the oven door.

The facility had an issue with an oven door that failed to close

Firefighters were able to shut the door and then helped the crematorium ventilate the building. No damage or flames outside of the oven were reported.

Krepps confirmed human ashes were contained in the thick smoke that flooded out of the building, as well as a chemical fire suppression agent.

"The fire extinguishing system activated, so that was the extinguishing agent from the system that was exposed," Krepps told KSWB. The chemical agent mixed with the ashes to make for a toxic situation. "You don’t want to breathe the agent if at all possible," said Krepps.

That warning sent Michael Goldberg, who had left work nearby to see what was going on, retreating back to watch from the safety of his office.

"I thought that maybe they had some other safety things in place, you know, so it didn’t get so hot like that," said Goldberg.

The San Diego County Air Pollution district told FOX 5 an inspector was sent to the site, but no health impact was found. The agency is also looking into whether the problem with the furnace was a mechanical issue or human error.