More than 2,000 people were evacuated from the area around two warehouses storing recycled plastics in Richmond, Ind., after a major fire at the site on April 11.
The fire had been contained but was still burning on April 12 and is expected to burn and produce smoke, soot and ash for several more days. A local firefighter sustained minor injuries in the response effort, but no major injuries were reported.
Officials with the Richmond Fire Department said the fire started at My-Way Trading Inc. at around 2:30 p.m. on April 11 and that the warehouses contained "large amounts of chipped, shredded and bulk recycled plastic."
They added that the site was previously a business that 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.
In spite of high winds, local firefighters were able to contain the fire within the warehouse complex and stop it from spreading to a nearby residential neighborhood.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began air monitoring at the site soon after the fire was reported. Their air monitoring has detected particulate matter, which officials said is "expected during a fire."
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued an Air Quality Action Day for April 12 in Wayne and Randolph counties, which have a combined population of more than 90,000. Officials said that IDEM is forecasting elevated levels of fine particles in the air because of the Richmond fire. They added that weather conditions will continue to spread the smoke, but that conditions should improve overnight and on April 13.
EPA will continue 24-hour air monitoring at the response. The agency is testing for several materials, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), styrene and benzene. None of those materials had been detected as of April 12. Officials said that asbestos-containing materials may be present because of the age of the building.
City fire officials said that they couldn't provide a time or estimate when evacuated residents would be allowed to return to their homes.
"As air monitoring results come back from lab testing, we are hoping to be able to allow residents to return to their homes," fire officials said on the department's website. "The primary focus is on the health and well-being of those residents, and we want to ensure it is safe before they reenter the area."
The cause of the fire hasn't 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.
The EPA website identifies the business involved in the fire as My-Way Trading. A June 2020 story from the Richmond Palladium-Item newspaper said the building was previously occupied by Cornerstone Trading Group and identified the owner as Seth Smith. Smith is now listed on LinkedIn as president and owner of My-Way Trading.
During an April 12 news conference, Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said the owner of the building had ignored cleanup orders from the city and that the city had won a subsequent court case against the owner.
"This [location] was a fire hazard," Snow said. "The business owner is fully responsible for all of this."
Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown described both the buildings and grounds involved in the fire as "unsafe." State Fire Marshal Steve Jones added that the fire "was challenging because of plastics."
"Because of the contents, this was a fast-growing fire," he said. "Local firefighters did a great job. This [fire] could have grown further than the buildings."
Locally the building is known as the former home of Hoffco, a lawn equipment company that closed in 2009.