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Evacuation order lifted in area near Indiana plastics fire

Apr 16, 2023, 3:40 PM

Firefighters pour water on an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., Thursday, April 13, 2023. Multiple...

Firefighters pour water on an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., Thursday, April 13, 2023. Multiple fires that began burning Tuesday afternoon were still burning within about 14 acres of various types of plastics stored inside and outside buildings at the former factory site. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

RICHMOND, Ind. (AP) — Authorities in eastern Indiana lifted a dayslong evacuation order late Sunday afternoon for an area near a plastics fire after they said it was determined air quality and other environmental concerns related to the fire were deemed safe.

Wayne County Emergency Management lifted the order for people within a half-mile (1 kilometer) radius of the fire scene after consulting with state, federal and local health officials, Matthew Cain, agency director, said at a news conference.

Testing of air debris would continue, he and Mayor Dave Snow said. At least 1,500 people live in the evacuation zone, though it is not known how many residents actually obeyed the call to evacuate after the fire began Tuesday afternoon.

“I feel very confident that people will be safe when they move back to their homes,” said Dr. David Jetmore, the Wayne County Health Department’s health officer.

Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown said crews will remain at the 14-acre (5-hectare) former factory site to extinguish flareups. It was declared under control Thursday night when the last flames were extinguished.

He previously said fire officials will meet Monday morning to decide what their next steps will be at the site, where tons of recycled plastic stored for resale caught fire. The site is in Richmond, about 70 miles (115 kilometers) east of Indianapolis, near the Ohio border.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said hydrogen cyanide and benzene were detected at the fire site. EPA contractors collected fire debris over the weekend that landed near schools or in parks and private yards. At least one sample has tested positive for asbestos, which can harm lungs.

The fire’s cause was not known. But it quickly became an inferno, destroying six run-down buildings holding recycled plastic and creating clouds of smoke so high and dark they cast a sprawling shadow over the city of 35,000 people.

The man operating the storage site was under a 2020 court order to clean up the site, which had no utilities and had been declared a serious fire hazard by inspectors. Richmond officials said they had barred him from accepting more plastics while he was working to get rid of the vast holdings.

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Evacuation order lifted in area near Indiana plastics fire