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Large industrial fire leads to evacuation in Richmond

RICHMOND, Ind. (WISH) — A large industrial fire on Tuesday afternoon led to an evacuation northwest of downtown Richmond, local authorities say.

Chief Tim Brown of the Richmond Fire Department says the fire began after 2 p.m. Tuesday in a semitrailer behind an industrial building at 358 N.W. F St., which is west of Northwest Fifth Street. The commercial area includes other industries, a dollar store, and a bar and grill.

Brown says the semitrailer was loaded with plastics, and the fire spread to other plastics around the trailer. Fire crews arrived to find all but one access road around the building was blocked by other semitrailers and more plastics. The fire then extended to the building, which was also full of plastics.

Brown says the building ownership is split between a private citizen and the city government. An unsafe building citation for the property had been issued to the private citizen. The building has about 175,000 square feet.

“They were under a city order to clean up and remediate that site,” Mayor Dave Snow told The Associated Press. “We knew that was a fire hazard the way they were storing materials.”

One firefighter injured an ankle. No other injuries have been reported.

The fire chief said upon his arrival that he saw about four people in the area who evacuated safely.

Steve Jones, Indiana State Fire marshal, says the smoke is toxic with a host of different chemicals produced when plastics burn. He says people should stay out of the smoke.

The building fire was under control by 7:30 p.m. Tuesday but, the fire marshal and fire chief say, it’s expected to smolder for several days.

The building is the former Hoffco/Comet Industries plant, which closed in October 2009 according to multiple media reports at the time. Before closing, it had made lawn and garden products for 60 years. The plant closed after it lost its biggest client, John Deere. Brown says it made stringed grass trimmers and other small engines for lawn and garden uses.

Bethesda Worship Center opened as a temporary shelter, the emergency management agency says. The church is at 2200 Peacock Road, which is off Salisbury Road, just southeast of the Wayne County Fairgrounds.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, an evacuation order remained in place for a half-mile radius around the fire.

(Provided Image/Wayne County Emergency Management Agency)

Wayne County Emergency Management Agency says, “Evacuation orders for residents and persons within 0.5 miles of the incident has been issued. Those outside of the 0.5 mile and east/northeast (downwind) of the incident are encouraged to shelter in place. To shelter in place, turn off HVAC units, keep windows and doors closed, and bring pets inside until advised further. Evacuation orders for residents and persons within 0.5 miles of the incident has been issued. Those outside of the 0.5 miles and east/northeast (downwind) of the incident are encouraged to shelter in place.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been called to the scene. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management was at the site Tuesday night, the fire chief says.

The mayor posted shortly before 9 p.m. Tuesday on Facebook that the city was awaiting results from the EPA and the state’s Environmental Management.

The mayor’s post added, “We do not expect the evacuation order to be lifted tonight. A bus will remain in place if needed and shelters are ready to accept citizens from the area.”

People were asked to call 765-983-7580 for a ride, and 765-973-9399 for shelter.

A local radio station posted on Facebook that a Richmond firehouse was “overwhelmed” after a call went out for donations of water and Gatorade. No additional donations were being accepted as of 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The Storm Track 8 radar captured the fire.

Richmond, a city of 35,800, is about an 80-minute drive east of downtown Indianapolis.

(WISH Image)

The Associated Press contributed to this story.