A fire at a massive plastic storage facility in eastern Indiana led to an evacuation order for the 2,000 residents within a half-mile radius of the blaze.
The fire broke out sometime after 2 pm Tuesday, Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown told reporters. The fire spread to six nearby buildings but has been contained, he said, meaning flames did not reach an adjacent residential area. Although the cause of the fire was unclear, the owner of the facility had been warned multiple times about fire hazards, he said.
Local firefighters “knew it wasn’t a matter of if, it was a matter of when, this was going to happen,” Brown said. The facility is about 175,000 square feet. It was “completely full” from “floor to ceiling and wall to wall,” Brown said.
The evacuation order was not expected to be lifted overnight, Dave Snow, mayor of the town of 35,000 people, said on social media.
“It’s going to burn for a few days,” said Steve Jones, the Indiana state fire marshal, who was speaking with Brown.
The smoke is “definitely toxic,” Jones told reporters. The evacuation order may be expanded if the wind blows the smoke in different directions, he added.
Burning plastic releases toxic gases such as dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls - better known as PCBs - into the atmosphere. These gases pose a threat to vegetation, and to human and animal health, according to the UN Environment Programme.
Plumes of smoke could be seen from the firehouse before firefighters rushed to the scene, Brown said. Those who first arrived at the facility found a burning semitrailer loaded with plastic.
First responders had only one access point to the fire, which hampered firefighting operations, Brown said. “All the other access roads were blocked by piles of plastic and other semitrailers,” he said. Propane tanks at the facility posed additional danger, he added.
No one was hurt in the blaze, according to Tammy Spears, an official at the Wayne County Emergency Management Agency.
It wasn’t clear whether all the residents ordered to evacuate had complied, according to Spears. But those at the scene of the fire were all accounted for, Brown said.