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Indiana mayor: ‘Business owner is responsible’ for fire

RICHMOND, Ind. (NewsNation) — Two days after a recycling storage facility in Richmond went up in flames, the cause of the blaze remains unknown. The city’s mayor is placing the blame squarely on the business owner.

“I will just tell you that the business owner is responsible for this mess, responsible for the disaster and responsible for putting everyone in danger from our first responders to our citizens,” Richmond Mayor David Snow said.

Snow placed much of the blame on the property owner, saying the city has been involved in litigation regarding the site. The city of Richmond also owns part of the property, which Snow said was part of efforts to hold the property owner accountable.

“We just wish the property owner and the business owner would’ve taken this more serious from day one,” Snow said. “This person has been negligent and irresponsible, and it’s led to putting a lot of people in danger.”

The site, formerly operating as “My Way Trading,” had been the subject of a citation for unsafe buildings and unsafe grounds, officials said.

The building, which has been used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale, had been under the microscope by the Richmond’s Unsafe Building Commission a few years back.

In 2019, inspectors had found fire sprinklers missing and what they cited as “excessive plastic materials” considered to be a fire hazard.

In 2020, a judge affirmed a cleanup order against Cornerstone Trading Group by Richmond’s Unsafe Building Commission.

It wasn’t clear what work, if any, had been done since the 2020 court ruling. Messages seeking comment from the city were not immediately returned.

Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown said clutter and rubbish in the area posed challenges for first responders at the scene, who essentially had only one point of entry to the site.

“We have six buildings on a 14-acre complex that have been involved in fire. All those buildings were full of plastic from floor to ceiling and wall to wall,” Brown told NewsNation’s Markie Martin on “Morning in America. “So we’re trying to make access into those buildings and into the grounds to where we can extinguish the fire and delete the plume, hopefully.”

Brown believed crews would be able to move more freely across the complex Wednesday, with firefighters able to attack from an elevated position.

Jason Sewell with the Environmental Protection Agency said roving crews were monitoring the air quality. Smoke is the primary concern, Sewell said, with tests concentrated on styrene, benzene and other toxins potentially in the air.

Air quality monitoring will continue 24 hours a day in the evacuation zone as well as the shelter-in-place area.

Christine Stinson with the Wayne County Health Department advised residents to “honor the evacuation zone” and stay out of the area. The smoke contains particulates that could be dangerous to anyone, especially those susceptible to respiratory issues.

“Any smoke, whether it has benzene or other compounds, is dangerous because of the particulate matter,” she said. “Breathing that in, just the particulate matter, is dangerous, but in particular for people with chronic illnesses, COPD and the elderly,” Stinson said.

“We are using n95 masks and SCBAs self-contained breathing apparatus when we’re in the smoky area or the smoke-filled areas or the around the plume. So we’re staying protected the best we can,” Brown said.

Burning of the eyes, tightening of the chest and bronchitis are among the concerns from the smoke.

The evacuation order remains in place for those living with a half-mile of the site. People living outside the evacuation zone are being told to shelter in place, turn off HVAC units, keep windows and doors closed and bring their pets inside.

Keleigh Beeson, NewsNation’s affiliate WXIN and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

  • This photo provided by Julie Roe shows smoke rising from a former factory site in Richmond, Ind., Tuesday, April 11, 2023. An evacuation order affecting more than 1,000 people was expected to remain in place through Wednesday, April 12, around the large industrial fire in Richmond, near the Ohio border, where crews worked through the night to douse piles of burning plastics, authorities said. (Julie Roe via AP)
  • This photo provided by Julie Roe shows smoking rising from a former factory site in Richmond, Ind., Tuesday, April 11, 2023. An evacuation order affecting more than 1,000 people was expected to remain in place through Wednesday, April 12, around the large industrial fire in Richmond, near the Ohio border, where crews worked through the night to douse piles of burning plastics, authorities said. (Julie Roe via AP)
  • Firefighters walk out of the site of an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Authorities urged people to evacuate if they live near the fire. The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • Firefighters pour water on an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Authorities urged people to evacuate if they live near the fire. The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • Smoke rises from an industrial fire, Tuesday, April 11, 2023, at 358 NW F Street, in Richmond, Ind. (Zach Piatt/The Palladium-Item via AP)
  • Smoke rises from an industrial fire, Tuesday, April 11, 2023, at 358 NW F Street, in Richmond, Ind. (Zach Piatt/The Palladium-Item via AP)
  • Firefighters continue to pour water on an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Authorities urged people to evacuate if they live near the fire. The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • Firefighters continue to pour water on an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Authorities urged people to evacuate if they live near the fire. The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • Firefighters continue to pour water on an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Authorities urged people to evacuate if they live near the fire. The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • Utility workers remove utilities from the area as smoke billows from an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Authorities urged people to evacuate if they live near the fire. The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • Utility workers remove utilities from the area as smoke billows from an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Authorities urged people to evacuate if they live near the fire. The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • Utility workers remove utilities from the area as firefighter pour water on an industrial fire in Richmond, Ind., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Authorities urged people to evacuate if they live near the fire. The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • Workers knock down a section of site of an industrial fire the area as smoke billows from the site in Richmond, Ind., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Authorities urged people to evacuate if they live near the fire. The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
  • Workers knock down a section of site of an industrial fire the area as smoke billows from the site in Richmond, Ind., Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Authorities urged people to evacuate if they live near the fire. The former factory site was used to store plastics and other materials for recycling or resale. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

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