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Crematorium Oven Malfunction Spews Human Ashes Into Air Above San Diego County

Smoke containing human remains billowed out of a National City crematorium Thursday when an oven door became stuck open while the furnace was in use, according to KTLA sister station KSWB in San Diego.

Fire crews were called to Cortez Cremations and Funeral Services on 100 West 35th Street shortly after noon to help close the oven door, National City Fire Captain Brian Krepps said.

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 that 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 said.

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," the fire captain said.

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," Goldberg said.

The San Diego County Air Pollution Control District told KSWB 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.