A massive industrial fire in Richmond, Indiana, is causing concerns for local residents as the local Department of Emergency Management moves to declare an air quality action day for nearby counties over air quality and asbestos concerns.
According to the Indiana Department of Emergency Management, “Weather conditions will continue to spread the smoke. Conditions should improve overnight.”
Residents nearby to the fire, which occurred at a landfill, say the smell from the fire is making them feel ill. The Environmental Protection Authority has confirmed it is conducting in-depth air monitoring at the site and is also collecting debris samples to determine any risk of asbestos exposure.
It comes after more than 2,000 residents were forced to evacuate their homes after the fire began earlier in the week, with the fire quickly spreading from a semi-trailer to piles of plastic around a trailer at the site, which is partially owned by the city and partially by a private citizen.
Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown explained that the site’s owner has “been warned several times. We have an unsafe citation that was issued to him. We don’t know exactly when that was but we were aware of the situation and we were dealing with the situation.”
The owner of the property will likely face further penalties, according to Richmond Mayor, Dave Snow. He had previously received a number of citations and warnings from the city.
“This business owner had previously been cited by our Unsafe Building Commission and given an order to clean up the property that order was ignored,” Snow said. “This was a fear for us and why we’ve taken so many steps to prevent this from happening. That business owner is fully responsible for all of this. We have the unsafe building order and the recorded court documents and everything that’s ensued.”
“The smoke is definitely toxic,” said Indiana State Fire Marshal Steve Jones. The areas needing to evacuate may change based on the direction the wind carries the smoke, Jones added.
The concern over air quality continues as crews continue to monitor the site which is still on fire. Residents were issued with a shelter-in-place order as a precaution over the contents of the site and the nature of the materials that were burned, especially whether there were any hazardous chemicals.
Residents in affected areas are asked to shut off power to their homes, including heating and air conditioning and evacuate to nominated evacuation centres.
Fire Marshall Jones has reiterated that residents should follow the advice of local authorities, and has asked that people not touch any debris they come across from the fire due to the unknown toxicity of any potential chemicals involved.