A dramatic fire at an Indiana plastic recycling plant forced the evacuation of roughly 2,000 people as plumes of toxic black smoke filled the skies on Tuesday.
The city of Richmond has a population of about 35,000 and is perched on the eastern end of the state. Officials ordered the evacuation after the industrial fire broke out at a business the mayor described as a “fire hazard.”
The first call from the facility came in at 2:40 p.m. Tuesday, and firefighters quickly shifted their efforts to containing the fire from spreading to neighboring areas.
Officials said the property is a total loss, but surrounding buildings were successfully protected.
According to the Associated Press, Mayor Dave Snow declared the company was “under a city order to clean up and remediate that site.” He said authorities were aware that the facility was dangerous for the way it stored flammable materials.
The city of Richmond reportedly owns part of the property that is on fire.
🚨#BREAKING: Urgent Evacuation Ordered as Massive Fire Engulfs Plastic Recycling Plant with over 1800 Propane Tanks at Risk
— R A W S A L E R T S (@rawsalerts) April 11, 2023
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management are on location evaluating hazards to the public.
Steve Jones, an Indiana State Fire Marshal, described the chaotic scene as “definitely toxic” and said the blaze will burn for days.
Local media reported that 13 of the facility’s 14 acres have burned.
The building, which held plastics and recyclables, was said to be surrounded by clutter and rubbish. Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown said the debris created challenges for first responders as they attempted to extinguish the fire.
He also noted that plastics were piled all around the building, including in semi truck trailers. There was only one way to enter the property, and firefighters were not able to move freely about as they attempted to bring the blaze under control.
The origin of the fire will likely not be determined for some time. Jones said the scene remains dangerous and investigators will not be able to access the site until it is deemed safe.
Air quality monitoring will be carried out 24 hours a day within the evacuation zone along with the shelter in place locations. The billowing black smoke is believed to harbor particles that are dangerous to everyone, especially those who are subject to respiratory problems.