Residents were told to evacuate after a "large industrial fire" broke out Tuesday in Richmond, Indiana, at an abandoned Hoffco factory that was being used to store plastics, officials said.
"It was fully loaded with unknown type of plastics," Richmond Fire Department Chief Tim Brown said at a Tuesday evening press conference. "The fire spread from the semi-trailer to other piles of plastics that were around the trailer. We only had one access into where the fire was, all the other access roads were blocked by other piles of plastic and other semi-trailers. So once the fire got out of control, it darkened down on us, we backed out real quick and went into defensive mode."
Indiana State Fire Marshall Steve Jones said the smoke was "definitely toxic," and warned residents of the danger of inhaling it.
"If there's a lot of smoke, they need to get out of it," Jones said. "They need to find a temporary place to stay and honestly, this fire is gonna burn for a few days. It's a big enough fire where it's not just going to be tonight. It's going to burn awhile."
Those living within half a mile of the factory were urged to evacuate. Residents outside of the evacuation zone who live downwind of the fire were told to shelter in place and turn off any heating or air conditioning, bring pets inside and close all doors and windows. Jonesl noted that evacuation and shelter-in-place orders may change as wind directions change.
The fire had been contained on three sides as of Tuesday evening, the city of Richmond said on Facebook.
Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said on Facebook that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management were on site and would be "evaluating any potential hazards resulting from the fire."
It was not immediately clear exactly how dangerous the smoke was or what the long-term effects of the fire could be.
"The exact toxicity of the smoke and debris is still being determined by environmental officials, but they do know it is burning plastic and generally to be avoided if possible," said David Hosick, Indiana Department of Homeland Security's director of public affairs. "The immediate concern is for the firefighters in close proximity to the blaze, and the smoke is diluted as it escapes into the air."
Hosick confirmed firefighters expect to be working to fully extinguish the blaze and monitoring the fire "for the next few days."
Fire officials said the owner of the building had been cited multiple times for potential fire hazards.
"It's very frustrating for all of us," Brown said. "The battalion chief on today, he was very frustrated when he pulled up, because we knew it wasn't a matter of if, it was a matter of when this was going to happen."
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