Rows of junked vehicles became engulfed in flames Wednesday afternoon at an Otay Mesa recycling center, sending a column of thick black smoke over southern San Diego and forcing road closures as ground and airborne crews battled the intense fire.

The blaze in the 6400 block of Datsun Street erupted for unknown reasons about 3:15 p.m., according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Authorities shut down a section of the street fronting the junkyard along with stretches of nearby Heritage Road, Otay Mesa Road and Otay Valley Road while firefighters worked to extinguish the flames, according to San Diego police.

Nearly 70 personnel, including a helicopter crew serving as spotters for their partners on the ground, fought the blaze through the late afternoon and into the early evening.

Such fires typically take considerable time to subdue due to the nature of the burning materials, including plastics, rubber, fuel and oil, SDFRD spokeswoman Monica Munoz told 10News.

Officials asked the public to avoid the area if possible until firefighters get the flames under control and police reopen the affected roadways.

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