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Richmond fire extinguished; EPA ends air monitoring

The plastics fire in Richmond, Ind., has been fully extinguished and the Environmental Protection Agency has ended air monitoring in the area.

Richmond Fire Department officials said the fire was completely out on April 18. The fire began April 11 when warehouses storing waste plastics caught fire. More than 2,000 people in the area were evacuated from their homes until April 16.

On April 19, the EPA stopped air testing after not detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or particulate matter emissions for three days. The agency had been air testing at approximately 10 locations in the city and had set up stationary air monitors around the perimeter of the fire site.

Asbestos was detected in some debris from the fire. As of April 20, EPA had collected debris at 17 schools, 16 daycares, six parks and one community center. These were priority properties identified by the city and county.

The agency will soon begin debris collection at residential properties. Officials said it is essential for residents not to remove or disturb any debris believed to be from the fire.

The fire started at My-Way Trading Inc. in warehouses that contained “large amounts of chipped, shredded and bulk recycled plastic.” Officials said that the overall site covers almost 14 acres and that the fire eventually spread to six buildings. All six buildings and their contents were “100 percent consumed” by the fire.

“There was every type of plastic you could imagine in those buildings,” Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown said. “The owner brought all of it in and then lost control of it.”

My-Way had collected and packaged recyclables for reselling. Plastics were stored inside and outside the buildings. The business owner has previously been cited by the city for multiple safety violations.

The city had been involved in a legal battle with My-Way’s owner — identified as Seth Smith — since 2019 in an effort to get him to clean up the site, according to City Attorney Andrew Sickmann. He added that the situation was further complicated by a bank having a financial interest in the materials stored at the site.

The cause of the fire has not been identified. According to state fire officials, it will be several days before the site is safe enough to enter to begin an investigation. Once the investigation is started, it will take several weeks to complete.

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