Three employees of Wine Central Services, the island's Building 627, safely evacuated after the fire erupted about 3:30 p.m., officials said. There were no injuries reported among the 80 firefighters from Vallejo and at least five other cities on the Solano County Strike Team who fought the multilevel fire late into the night.
Firefighters hoped to contain the fire by this morning.
Investigators could not immediately determine an exact cause because crews were unable to access the fire's origin point for several hours. But fire commanders said roofing work conducted earlier in the day may be a factor.
After learning no one was inside the facility, which housed parts of the first atom bomb in 1945, Fire Chief Don Parker said he ordered crews to fight the blaze defensively. He said the building had no sprinkler system.
"This is a classic type of fire where firefighters could really get hurt," Parker said, adding that crews would salvage as much of the warehouse's assets as possible.
Wine Central Services CEO Jack Krystal, who founded the company about five years ago, estimated there were several hundred thousand bottles of wine and other goods valued at several million dollars inside the warehouse.
Employees watched as trails of dark smoke billowed from the roof and several metal sliding doors of the warehouse, located in the 600 block of Azuar Drive. Columns of smoke poured into mainland Vallejo and clouded Highway 37, but authorities said no traffic collisions were reported.
Special projects coordinator Jennifer Cumman cried as she thought about many collections owned by the company's roughly 150 clients.
Aided by 20 fire engines, crews were dousing the flames from inside the three-floored facility and atop four ladder trucks that sprayed the roof. Hazardous material teams were called in after rivers of wine spilled into outside storm drains, but authorities said there was no contamination of the city's water supply.
Fueled by cardboard and plastic used to package the wine, the fire latched onto wooden beams that made up much of the middle floor, officials said.
Despite the alcohol content, the wine was not fueling the blaze, Assistant Fire Chief Ray Dandridge said.
"We don't know where it's spreading," Dandridge said. "There's nothing to stop it."
In Mare Island's heyday during World War II, Building 627 was the most secure facility at the former shipyard because it housed secret military files.
In 1945, parts of the atom bomb were stored inside the building before they were shipped by the USS Indianapolis to the Pacific Theater and moved onto the Enola Gay for the Hiroshima bombing, Burgelin said.
The building has movable cranes and thick concrete walls, floors and ceilings and heavy steel doors that open to allow rail cars inside. Besides private wine collectors, the company has stored goods for the Francis Ford Coppola brand of pastas and sauces and C&H Sugar.