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Indiana industrial fire nearly extinguished but smoke still poses danger


A massive column of smoke could be seen over Richmond, Indiana on Wednesday (April 12), a day after a fire broke out at a local recycling plant, prompting officials to order thousands of locals to evacuate the area.

A raging industrial fire in eastern Indiana is expected to be almost entirely extinguished by Thursday evening or Friday morning, officials said, after days of thick smoke shut down schools and forced hundreds of residents to evacuate.

The blaze at a plastics recycling facility in Richmond, Indiana, a city of 35,000 about 70 miles (113 km) east of Indianapolis, started on Tuesday afternoon in a semi-trailer parked behind a warehouse before spreading to the rest of the 13.8-acre (5.58-hectare) site.

The My Way Trading facility had six buildings, according to Tim Brown, the city’s fire chief. Firefighters have successfully prevented the flames from spreading beyond the property, and about 90% of the fire is out.

“Each one of those buildings was full of those plastics from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, and I would say 100% of that has been consumed,” he said at a news briefing on Thursday afternoon.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency detected asbestos in one sample of debris that had been blown away from the fire, said Jason Sewell, an EPA on-scene coordinator.

The agency is monitoring dozens of sites around town and has not yet detected toxic compounds, Sewell said. But the smoke contains particulate matter, which can cause respiratory and other health problems.

Officials again warned residents who smell or see smoke to shelter in place, keeping windows and doors shut and turning off their heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.

The owner of the property had previously been cited for safety violations, and the site was under a cleanup order, officials said.

Some 2,000 people living within a 1/2-mile (0.8 km) radius have been ordered to leave their homes, and schools were closed on Wednesday and Thursday. Two firefighters have suffered minor injuries.

The American Red Cross is operating a shelter at a local church for displaced residents.

“I’m isolated here. Feeling like I’m the lone survivor of an apocalypse,” Richmond resident Derek Crane said on Facebook. “I’m exaggerating, of course, but don’t discount the seriousness of the smoke.”

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