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Mayor: Richmond industrial fire extinguished

LATEST: Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said in a Facebook post at 8:44 p.m. Thursday, “Just received a very encouraging call from our Fire Chief, Tim Brown. The fire has been fully extinguished ahead of schedule. Our Fire Department is to be highly commended for their swift and brave action. We’re now able to turn our attention to collecting air and water samples and determine when the evacuation order can be lifted. Our goal is to get people back into their homes as soon as possible. We’ll have more information to share once it becomes available.

Story below and video above are from previous coverage on News 8 at 5 and 6 p.m.

RICHMOND, Ind. (WISH) — Thursday after a press conference, Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said, “It is his mess.

“It has been shown again and again that this is his mess, his responsibility, his money to clean it up, and it was all to avoid this type of disaster.”

Snow squarely placed the blame for Tuesday’s large industrial fire on the shoulders of the owner of a warehouse of a former industrial plastic recycling company.

Smoke laden with potentially harmful particles on Thursday continued to cloud the sky over Richmond.

I-Team 8 asked Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown to explain what is burning and where did it come from.

“There are several types of plastics. It is a recycling and resale plastics company. I have no idea where it came from. The owner has brought it all in and kind of lost control,” the fire chief said.

For the thousands of residents within a half mile of the My Way Trading building, located near Northwest Fifth Street in Richmond, they will not be going home anytime soon. The fire chief says he hopes to have the fire 98% out by Friday.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management are testing the air and debris, and have found detectable levels of harmful compounds. They’ve also found the debris is traveling outside of the evacuation zone of the city of 35,800 on Indiana’s eastern border.

“I am aware there are people reporting debris as far out as across the Ohio border,” said Jason Swell, an on-scene coordinator with the EPA.

Snow says the city became aware of issues with the recycling company in 2019. The owner was cited for violations several times, and the city tried to keep the owner accountable by purchasing a portion of the property and cleaning up the clutter with a grant from the EPA.

Richmond City Attorney A.J. Sickmann said, “We had some trouble doing that at first before we acquired the two parcels. The owner would not allow city access to the site and running parallel to that agreement was the agreement that these materials would be removed and sold to another processor.”

The EPA representative says the agency has 34 testing sites around Richmond and is collecting debris and sampling the water, but so far has found nothing conclusive.

Residents inside of the evacuation zone will be escorted to collect essential items. They have not been given a time when they can return home. 

Latest from EPA

April 13, 2023, site update 3 p.m.

“This afternoon, debris sample results confirmed the presence of asbestos-containing material. EPA is working with local and state officials to develop a plan to address debris found in the surrounding neighborhoods. Asbestos-containing materials may release fibers when they are disturbed. Residents should continue to leave any debris alone — please do not touch debris or mow over it.  

“IDEM issued Air Quality Action Days through Friday, April 14, in Wayne and Randolph counties. IDEM is forecasting elevated levels of particulate matter in the air due to smoke from the fire. 

“EPA has conducted roving air monitoring at 34 locations, taking a total of 721 measurements. Ground-level air monitors continues to detect particulate matter, as expected from a fire.

“EPA has received one air sample result, taken in real-time at the location of the fire on April 12. The result shows volatile organic compounds present. This result is representative of what firefighters might be exposed to and not what the broader community would have been exposed to. EPA conducted 24-hour air sampling on Wednesday, April 12 at the local hospital and anticipates those results in the next couple days. Those results will be more representative as to what the broader community could have been exposed to during that time. The half-mile evacuation order remains in effect and EPA will continue to provide all air monitoring and sampling data to the local and state officials including health agencies to help inform their decision-making.”

Environmental Protection Agency update at 3 p.m. April 13, 2023

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