Residents of Richmond, Indiana, had to evacuate their homes after a large industrial fire broke out, spewing toxic smoke for miles.
On Tuesday, residents of Richmond, Indiana, had to evacuate their homes after a large industrial fire broke out, spewing toxic smoke for miles. According to CNN News, the abandoned Hoffco factory, where the fire started, was being used to store tons of unknown plastics for recycling purposes. Once the fire started in a semi-trailer, it spread rapidly to the other surrounding semi-trailers and plastics, the cloud of smoke becoming so thick and dark that even the fire department had to pull back from their efforts to stifle the fire.
The fire department chief warned residents about the toxic smoke while the fire department continued efforts to contain the fire, though it proved difficult to control thanks to the plastics fueling it. Environmental Management Agency members of the county followed up the fire department’s warnings with an evacuation order for all residents within half a mile of the fire. Others in Richmond were told to shelter in place, turn off HVAC units, and keep windows and doors closed; residents were encouraged to bring any pets indoors and to only let them out as necessary.
Nearly 24 hours later, the evacuation and shelter-in-place orders are still in effect, as the fire continues to burn, and toxic smoke continues to billow out. One firefighter has sustained minor injuries, but no other injuries due to the fire or to smoke inhalation have been reported. Residents of Richmond, Indiana, and of nearby communities are concerned about the long-term effects of the snow on the environment and on their health.
According to Dave Snow, the mayor of Richmond, Indiana, the fault for the fire lies largely with the company that managed the building; he even went so far as to call their actions “negligent and irresponsible.” To help house the thousands of evacuated victims, a temporary shelter has been opened at Richmond’s Bethesda Ministries. Some are wondering if the evacuation measures are extreme enough, though, given that the toxic smoke can be seen for miles, even on weather radars.
The Richmond Community Schools system, as well as Indiana University East, has shut down all in-person classes and will be conducting classes virtually until further notice. So far, firefighters have been able to stop the fire on three sides and were able to contain it before it hit a nearby neighborhood. Though the fire and subsequent toxic smoke was, perhaps, a crime of negligence, authorities have ruled out arson and other foul play as the cause of the blaze.
Officials on site said that, because of the size of the fire and the types of chemicals fueling it, it’s likely to continue burning and producing toxic smoke for at least several more days. Since Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management Team have been on site testing air quality and ensuring that residents stay safe. So far, approximately 2,000 people have been evacuated and officials can’t say whether the evacuation zone will remain the same or will have to widen as the blaze continues.