Hundreds forced from homes as plastics fire burns in Indiana

Save articles for later

Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.

Richmond: An evacuation order affecting more than 1000 people was expected to remain in place through Wednesday around a large industrial fire in an Indiana city near the Ohio border where crews worked through the night to douse piles of burning plastics, authorities said.

Multiple fires that began burning on Tuesday afternoon were still burning on Wednesday afternoon (Thursday AEST) within about 14 acres (5.6 hectares) of various types of plastics stored both inside and outside buildings at the former factory site in Richmond, 113 kilometres east of Indianapolis, Richmond fire Chief Tim Brown said.

Smoke rising from a former factory site in Richmond, Indiana, on Tuesday.Credit: AP

He said the fire is contained within the old factory site but not under control and the firefighting effort is ongoing. Brown said the fire response team has a very tentative goal of finishing up dousing the flames by Saturday morning, but added Wednesday afternoon “that’s a guess.”

It comes two months after a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio (near the Pennsylvania border), released vinyl chloride and other chemicals from some rail cars, drawing international attention.

Brown said their goal is to put out the fires, not let them burn, and said rumours to the contrary were incorrect.

“We are attempting to put the fire out. We are not letting it burn. Evidently, there’s some misinformation out there that we’re letting it burn,” he said.

The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale.Credit: AP

Between 1500 and 2000 people who live within a kilometre of the plant were told to leave after the fire began, said David Hosick, spokesperson for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.

Brown, the fire chief, said it’s unclear how many people have been evacuated from around the site. People outside that radius who live downwind of the fire were advised to keep windows closed and pets inside.

Brown said the evacuation order would remain in place through Wednesday and perhaps into Wednesday night, depending on how much progress crews make in putting out the flames. He said the fire’s cause remains under investigation and the only injury has been a firefighter who suffered a minor ankle injury overnight Tuesday.

Some Richmond residents forced from their homes took shelter starting on Tuesday afternoon at Oak Park Pentecostals, after families picking up their children from the church’s daycare realised they could not return home, said executive pastor Jesse Arthur. He expects the church’s expansive gymnasium, with bathrooms, showers and the daycare — and water and hot food provided by the Red Cross and residents — could fill up on Wednesday evening.

Smoke rising from a former factory site in Richmond, Indiana, on Tuesday.Credit: AP

“I think almost everybody was exhausted. Long day. Traumatic. Everything’s up in the air,” Arthur told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Last month, AP reported that after the East Palestine train derailment, anonymous pro-Russian accounts started spreading misleading claims and anti-American propaganda about it on Twitter.

The accounts, which parroted Kremlin talking points on myriad topics, claimed without evidence that authorities in Ohio were lying about the true impact of the chemical spill. The accounts spread fearmongering posts that preyed on legitimate concerns about pollution and health effects and compared the response to the derailment with America’s support for Ukraine following its invasion by Russia.

In Richmond, Terry Snyder junior spent a restless night at the church on Tuesday night with his parents, who are worried about their home of five years. All three were coughing from the smoke as both Snyder and his mother, Wendy, have asthma, while his father, Terry Snyder senior, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“I didn’t sleep all night. I was nervous,” Wendy Snyder said. “… I’ve never been displaced from my home.”

Aaron Stevens, a Richmond police officer who lives six blocks from the plant, remained at his home on Wednesday despite the evacuation order and watching ash fall on his deck and backyard. His sister, who lives closer to the fires, was staying with him to escape the smoke and Stevens said he’s keeping an eye on the changing updates around the smoke.

State and federal regulators were at the scene to monitor air quality and other environmental impacts at the site, which local officials said has been used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale.

Jason Sewell, the on-scene co-ordinator for the US Environmental Protection Agency, said 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.

He stressed, however, that smoke is harmful to inhale because it contains particulate matter of different sizes and can contain toxics, and residents should avoid the smoke.

Sewell said air sampling was continuing on Wednesday in Richmond, a city of 35,000 residents.

US President Joe Biden, who has been visiting Northern Ireland and Ireland, spoke by phone to Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb and offered his support and any additional federal assistance needed to respond to the fire, the White House said.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the federal agency was working closely with its state and local partners in responding to and monitoring the fire. He said an EPA team would be collecting samples of debris in the area on Wednesday “to determine whether asbestos-containing materials may have left the site.”

“So we’re following the situation very closely and will continue to provide the community with any assistance that they need,” he said in the nation’s capitol before speaking about tough new vehicle pollution control limits.


Get a note directly from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.

Most Viewed in World

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article