An evacuation order affecting more than 1,000 people was expected to remain in place until Wednesday as crews worked through the night to extinguish piles of burning plastic, authorities said.
Richmond Fire Department Chief Tim Brown told CBS News the fire, which started Tuesday afternoon in Richmond, Indiana, “grew in intensity” and quickly spread across the 14-acre facility.
Brown said the fire is planned to be contained “sometime Saturday” and that fire response teams should gain access to the hotspot area. Responders were working diligently, but their job was made more difficult because they had to move things around, he told CBS News.
Brown said their goal was to put out fires rather than extinguish them, and that rumors to the contrary were incorrect.
“We’re trying to put out the fire. We’re not letting it burn. Obviously, there’s some misinformation out there that we’re letting it burn,” he said.
Indiana Department of Homeland Security spokesman David Hosick said 1,500 to 2,000 people who live within a half-mile of the plant were told to leave after the fire started.
Michael Conroy via AP
Brown, the fire chief, said it was unclear how many people were evacuated from around the site. People outside that radius who live under the fire were advised to keep windows closed and pets inside.
Brown said the evacuation order will remain in place Wednesday and possibly into Wednesday night, depending on how much progress crews make on the fire. He said the cause of the fire remains under investigation and the only injury was a firefighter who suffered a minor ankle injury Tuesday night.
State and federal regulators were on site to monitor air quality and other environmental impacts at the site, which local officials said was used to store plastic and other materials for reuse or resale.
Brown told CBS News that smoke samples were taken to judge how “toxic” the smoke was and to monitor air quality.
Jason Sewell, on-scene coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency, said the agency has been sampling air outside the evacuation area and nearby parts of Ohio, but no toxic compounds have been detected.
He stressed, however, that the smoke is harmful to breathe as it contains particulate matter of various sizes and may contain toxic substances and residents should avoid the smoke.
Sewell said air sampling continued Wednesday in Richmond, a city of 35,000 residents.
President Joe Biden, who is visiting Northern Ireland and Ireland, spoke by phone with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and offered his support and any additional federal assistance in responding to the fires, the White House said.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the federal agency is working closely with its state and local partners on fire response and monitoring. He said an EPA team will collect debris samples in the area on Wednesday “to determine if asbestos-containing materials have left the site.”
“So we are following the situation very closely and will continue to provide the community with any assistance they need,” he said in the nation’s capital before speaking about tough new automobile pollution control limits.
With smoke still billowing from the fire, Indiana’s environmental agency issued an air quality advisory Wednesday for two eastern Indiana counties, Wayne and Randolph, warning that the forecast calls for high levels of fine glass particles in the air.
Indiana’s State Fire Marshal, Steve Jones, said residents should stay away from the smoke, especially older people with respiratory problems.
“There’s a host of different chemicals that plastics release when they burn. And so that’s worrisome,” Jones said.
Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said Wednesday that the plastic recycling site was under a city order to clean up and remediate the complex, but said the business owner had ignored that order. Tushar called the man “a negligent business owner.”