Fire broke out Thursday at a shuttered warehouse in a neighborhood of industrial yards and residences near Olive Park in west Santa Rosa.

Fire crews were dispatched to the Chestnut Street property at 3:01 p.m. and arrived to find flames coming out of the windows and doors, Santa Rosa fire division chief Scott Westrope said. A locked gate and boarded windows slowed firefighters’ access to the property, he said.

Flames crawled up the corrugated metal structure and a massive plume of smoke drew onlookers along the nearby Santa Rosa Creek trail.

At Empire Towing and Road Service next door, Bill Spatz said the sight of flames stopped him in his tracks when he pulled into his yard after delivering parts.

“I got out and turned around and said, ‘Oh sh-t,’” Spatz said.

Firefighters had to cut through a fence to get to the structure. Westrope said they hadn’t yet reached a property owner.

The warehouse is tucked into a mixed commercial and residential neighborhood in the northwest corner where Highway 12 and Highway 101 meet.

Spatz said there have been several tenants since a welding shop vacated the warehouse about three years ago. He and other neighbors speculated that homeless people were camping in the area near the warehouse’s northern side adjacent to the creek.

An investigation into where the fire started and what caused it was expected to continue this morning, Westrope said.

Firefighters haven’t found any evidence of people squatting in the structure, he said. There was little inside beyond some debris.

Firefighters had the flames under control at 3:26 p.m. Fire burned through much of the north-facing roof and charred the corrugated siding. Heavy industrial wires hung from the rafters inside the burned-out structure. The building is expected to be a total loss, Westrope said, estimating damage to be around $500,000. A city building inspector red-tagged it, meaning it is unsafe for people to enter.

Staff Writer Jamie Hansen contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem.