WATCH: Massive industrial fire prompts evacuation order in eastern Indiana city

The order is expected to last through Wednesday.
Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 6:02 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Indiana (WXIX) - An evacuation order is in effect for eastern Indiana residents who live within a half-mile of a roaring industrial fire, according to Wayne County EMA.

The fire is in an industrial facility on NW F Street in Richmond, about 30 miles west of Dayton. [View on map]

The evacuation order came down just before 4 p.m. Tuesday and is expected to remain in place through Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

Indiana’s state fire marshal, Steve Jones, said Tuesday “the smoke is definitely toxic” and residents need to get away from the smoke plumes, especially elderly people with respiratory problems, the AP reported. He said that if the wind changes, officials may alter the evacuation order.

“There’s a host of different chemicals that plastics give off when they’re on fire. And so it’s concerning,” Jones said, according to the AP.

The AP cited Jason Sewell, the on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as saying the agency has been doing roving air sampling outside the evacuation area and into part of nearby Ohio, but no toxic compounds have been detected.

Sewell stressed, according to the AP, that smoke is harmful to inhale because it contains particulate matter of different sizes and can contain toxins, and residents should avoid the smoke.

He further explained that air sampling will continue Wednesday in Richmond, the AP reports.

The EPA says they started collecting debris samples in the surrounding area to “determine whether asbestos-containing materials may have left the site.” Asbestos-containing materials may be present due to the age of the building, the EPA explained.

Residents are urged to not touch any debris until the EPA samples results are back.

An emergency shelter is set up for displaced residents. Residents outside the evacuation zone and those downwind of the fire are urged to shelter in place, turn off HVAC units, keep windows and doors closed and bring pets inside.

FOX59 in Indianapolis reports the facility in Richmond is a former lawn mower manufacturer.

Richmond Mayor Dave Snow described the blaze as “a serious, large-scale” fire that required a multi-agency response. “Please avoid this area if possible, as it is dangerous, and allow our first responders room to get this under control,” he said early Tuesday evening.

The mayor told our media partners at the Enquirer the blaze began after a tractor-trailer truck caught fire nearby.

Snow said at 7 p.m. the fire has been contained on three sides and that fire crews are working to prevent its spread.

The fire department says the fire is under control but anticipates the fire will continue for several days, according to a Wednesday update from the EPA.

The plume of dark smoke has risen high into the sky and can be seen for miles. Radar imagery showed the plume moving into Ohio almost immediately after the fire began.

A Wayne County EMA spokesperson tells us there is no danger of chemical runoff into the Richmond-area water supply, noting the substances are being “rerouted.”

The spokesperson says anyone downwind from the fire, even those in Ohio, should remain inside if they can smell the smoke. She added: “It’s not going to bother people unless they have a breathing condition.”

Preble County Emergency Management Agency Director Suzy Cottingim tells us the industrial plant is mainly used for recycling plastics. She says it doesn’t store the sort of chemicals in sufficient quantity to require Tier II reporting or be categorized as a hazmat facility.

Cottingim says she’s been in contact with the Ohio EMA. She says there’s “no indication” a shelter-in-place order will be needed in Ohio.

Tier II reporting requirements for hazardous and extremely hazardous substances are imposed by the U.S. EPA but may be modified by state law.

The EPA requires the disclosure of specific information from facilities that store these substances. The reports are used by emergency response personnel in developing response plans for incidents at those facilities. Read more here.

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