An evacuation order remained in place on April 14 after a major plastics-related fire in Richmond, Ind.
More than 2,000 people were evacuated from the area April 11. Two warehouses storing recycled plastics caught fire at around 2:30 p.m. on that date.
At an April 13 news conference, Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown said that the fire was 90 percent extinguished, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said April 14 it wasn't completely out at that time.
"The fire department is addressing hot spots and flare-ups. The fire is not extinguished," EPA wrote.
EPA noted at 9 a.m. April 14 that it is continuing 24-hour air monitoring and sampling at the site and around the community.
Brown said the department couldn't estimate when the evacuation order would be lifted, adding that officials wanted to see results from air samples first and make sure that the fire was fully extinguished.
Two local firefighters sustained minor injuries in the response effort, but no major injuries were reported.
The fire started at My-Way Trading Inc. in warehouses that contained "large amounts of chipped, shredded and bulk recycled plastic." Brown said that the overall site covers almost 14 acres and that the fire eventually spread to six buildings. All six buildings and their contents were "100 percent consumed" by the fire.
"There was every type of plastic you could imagine in those buildings," Brown added. "The owner brought all of it in and then lost control of it."
My-Way had collected and packaged recyclables for reselling. Plastics were stored inside and outside the buildings. The business owner has previously been cited by the city for multiple safety violations.
The city had been involved in a legal battle with My-Way's owner — identified on LinkedIn as Seth Smith — since 2019 in an effort to get him to clean up the site, according to City Attorney Andrew Sickmann.
"The city didn't create this problem. We were allowing the owner to sell and remove material, but not add to it," Sickmann said at the news conference. "The city couldn't go in and remove it. The pandemic affected the owner's ability to sell the materials overseas, but he was doing it."
Sickmann added that the situation was further complicated by a bank having a financial interest in the materials stored at the site.
At the news conference, EPA on-scene coordinator Jason Sewell said that two pieces of debris were tested for asbestos because of the age of the buildings. One of those pieces tested positive. Sewell asked local residents not to mow over or break up debris found in their yards.
The cause of the fire has not been identified. According to state fire officials, it will be several days before the site is safe enough to enter to begin an investigation. Once the investigation is started, it will take several weeks to complete.
Locally the building is known as the former home of Hoffco, a lawn equipment company that closed in 2009.
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