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Richmond community steps up as evacuation order remains 

RICHMOND, Ind. (WISH) — An area pastor on Wednesday said evacuees, due to a toxic fire, were able to find shelter quickly. 

As Tuesday’s fire at a former weed trimmer manufacturing facility grew, Bethesda Worship Center Senior Pastor Ken Harris called city officials to offer his church as a temporary shelter if anyone had to evacuate. Within 45 minutes, he said officials called him back to say they needed to take him up on his offer. Harris’ church became a temporary shelter Tuesday evening for about two dozen people. Harris said he and his staff provided food, toiletries, and prayed with the evacuees. A counselor was on site as well. The evacuees stayed at another shelter overnight if they weren’t able to line up a place to stay right away. 

“There’s always that initial rush of just ‘what do I do now?’” he said. “We wanted to get them in here and let them know they’re not alone.” 

The fire continued to smolder Wednesday afternoon, spewing plumes of toxic smoke into the air. The mix of plastics and chemicals at the site makes the smoke even more dangerous than usual. State Fire Marshal Steve Jones said it’s too dangerous even for fire investigators to get close. 

“It’s under control, it’s just gradually whittling away at it piece by piece,” he said. “We haven’t really made any good headway in the middle of it just yet.” 

Jones said an evacuation order remains in effect for anyone within half a mile of the site. Officials with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security told News 8 as many as 2,000 people had been affected. They said as far as they knew, virtually all of them were able to find a place to stay. 

Harris said the families that spent a few hours at his church were able to find somewhere to stay as well. He said he doesn’t think evacuees will need to seek shelter at his church again, but he’s ready to help further if needed.  

“That’s part of the ministry,” he said. “The building is not sacred, it’s a tool that we want to use to say we’re here, we love you.” 

Richmond community schools announced Wednesday afternoon all classes will remain canceled for Thursday. Ivy Tech’s Richmond campus will hold all classes virtually on Thursday as well as IU East. Jones said the evacuation zone has not changed, but the EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management are monitoring air quality and officials will adjust the boundaries if needed. IDEM officials declared an air quality action day for Wednesday and Thursday in Wayne and Randolph counties.