Industrial Fire Ignites Plastics, Prompts Evacuations in Indiana
A large industrial fire that ignited stored plastics at a the site of a former factory in Richmond, Indiana has led thousands of local residents to be evacuated. The flames are still burning, but under control, and authorities hope to have all flames put out by Saturday.
Those living within 0.5 miles of the plant were evacuated, and evacuations remained in place as of Wednesday night. Richmond officials also recommend those outside of the evacuation, particularly those living downwind of the warehouse fire, to consider sheltering in place, keeping pets inside, closing windows and doors, and turning off HVAC units to minimize potential exposure to air pollutants.
The fire broke out Tuesday afternoon at a 14-acre former factory site where officials reported that various types of plastics were being stored for recycling. Large amounts of chipped, shredded, and bulk plastics were stored inside and outside of buildings, and the overall fire involved multiple sources of flames.
According to officials, the warehouse is the site of a plant that collected recyclables to resell, and the owner of the Cornerstone Trading Group business had multiple citations from the Unsafe Building Commission to clean up the site. As reported by The Associated Press, investigators found missing sprinklers and excessive plastics considered to be a fire hazard.
“We have been through several steps since then to order this particular business owner to clean up this property because we were aware that what was operating here was a fire hazard,” said Richmond Mayor Dave Snow, as reported by NBC News. “That business owner is fully responsible for all of this.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation.
“There’s plastics inside buildings, there’s plastics outside buildings, there’s plastics in semitrailers that are throughout the grounds here at the complex, so we’re dealing with many type of plastics. It’s very much a mess,” said Tim Brown, fire chief for Richmond, as reported by The Guardian.
Although the area experienced high winds, the fire was contained to the warehouse and did not spread to other buildings in the neighborhood.
But the resulting plume of smoke billowed out overhead, causing concern for toxins and air pollution in the area. On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also warned that any debris from the fire should be left alone, as the age of the buildings means debris from the fire could contain asbestos.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. EPA are continuing to monitor and sample air in the area. Local authorities are also working to minimize runoff that could impact local waterways.
Locals have been advised to avoid smoke-filled areas, as officials are unsure what materials burned in the fire and what toxins could be in the smoke.
“Symptoms that may be related to breathing smoke include repeated coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest tightness or pain, palpitations, nausea, or lightheadedness,” Richmond officials explained on a webpage dedicated to providing information on the fire. “If you experience these symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider.”
Local residents can also visit the EPA fire response page for more information and assistance.
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