A "serious, large-scale," almost apocalyptic industrial fire has been billowing toxic smoke into the blue skies over Richmond, Indiana, since Tuesday when a defunct recycling center caught fire. The flames, smoke, and dangerous debris have also forced the evacuation of more than 2,000 residents from the surrounding area.
Late Tuesday evening the fire was reportedly contained but not extinguished. The Wayne County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), however, announced in an update that the fire will continue burning and producing smoke, soot, and ash for several days due to the nature of the fire and what was burning.
The fire, located at the former Hoffco factory in Richmond, 70 miles east of Indianapolis, started when plastics and other materials being stored at the factory ignited. The factory ceased operations in 2009.
Authorities evacuated residents within a half mile of the fire and urged those outside of the evacuation zone to shelter in place and turn off their HVAC unites, close all windows and doors, and bring pets inside.
While residents have taken to posting photos of debris from the fire on social media, authorities have cautioned against touching any debris, as it is unknown at this time what chemicals may have contaminated the debris.
It has been difficult for officials to predict what kind of health concerns may arise from the fire as no one knows what exactly had burned.
Health issues that the Wayne County EMA mentioned in an alert included, irritated skin, shortness of breath, and irritated or burning eyes. Individuals with respiratory issues were encouraged to evacuate or seek medical attention if their breathing problems worsened.
While no injuries have been reported thus far, the Indiana State Fire Marshall did issue a warning that the smoke was "definitely toxic."
"This fire is going to burn for a few days," the state fire marshall added.
A tweet from Richmond Mayor Dave Snow Tuesday evening said that operations would continue into the night and that a bus would remain available to assist with evacuations. Snow also posted a map of the evacuation zone.
The city had been concerned about the site since 2019 when concerns arose that it could pose a fire hazard due to the way the materials inside were stored.
According to reports from Zerohedge, the fire started in a tractor-trailer that was parked on-site and quickly spread to the rest of the facility. The cause of the fire remains unknown. Multiple units responded in an effort to contain the blaze.
While westerly winds blew the billowing black smoke east into Ohio, Bethesda Worship Center in Richmond opened its doors to provide temporary shelter for people forced to evacuate, while additional agencies worked to arrange hotel rooms for displaced residents.
Unlike the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio in February, state and federal regulators and officials are already on site to assess air quality and other environmental concerns. In East Palestine, residents were told that the derailment and the subsequent explosion did not warrant the deployment of FEMA or other federal agencies and resources.
The fire has been contained to the city's northwest corner with all efforts being made to prevent it from spreading to the eastern side of the city.
According to the Wayne County EMA, the investigation into the cause of the fire and other factors would take several weeks and involve multiple agencies.
Meanwhile, residents, city officials, and federal authorities are all calling for the business owner to be held accountable for the fire and all related damages.
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