‘It wasn’t if, it’s when;’ Owner of Richmond plastics facility cited multiple times prior to fire

RICHMOND — Residents had to leave their homes after a large-scale fire at a plastics recycling facility in Richmond sent plumes of smoke into the air Tuesday afternoon.

Shortly after 2 p.m., Richmond firefighters were called to NW F Street after dispatchers received multiple calls about large pillars of black smoke coming from a plastics recycling facility in the area, according to Richmond Fire Chief Tim Brown.

The fire was something Brown said fire crews had been anticipating for quite some time.

“It wasn’t if, it’s just when,” Brown said.

>> PHOTOS: Large-scale fire sends plumes of black smoke into air in Richmond

He said the six buildings were full of plastic from “floor to ceiling, wall to wall” along with several semi-trailers.

When firefighters arrived on the scene they found a semi-trailer in the back of the building on fire and the fire quickly jumped to the multiple piles of plastic nearby.

Brown said the owner of the property had been cited previously for the property being unsafe.

Fire crews, along with the city had been trying to get them to clean up the buildings for some time, Brown said.

Due to the clouds of black smoke coming off the fire, all residents within half a mile of the scene were asked to evacuate.

A temporary shelter has been set up for those displaced by the evacuation at Bethesda Ministries, located at 2200 Peacock Road, according to Wayne County EMA.

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Those outside the area and downwind (east/northeast) are asked to shelter in place. Residents who are sheltering in place are asked to turn off HVAC units, keep windows and doors closed and bring pets inside.

Richmond Mayor Dave Snow said he does not expect the evacuation order to be lifted Tuesday night.

Brown anticipates crews to continue fighting the fire into the night and Wednesday morning.

All six buildings are a total loss.

One firefighter suffered a minor injury to his foot, but was treated and is okay, Brown said.

The Indiana State Fire Marshall, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and Environmental Protection Agency are all on the scene assessing any hazards and air quality to determine when residents can return to their homes.

Welcome Inn Bar and Grill bartender Lisa Walters described the moment she saw the fire.

“So I went outside and there was a tremendous amount of smoke and a lot of flames happening at that point and then there were a few explosions,” Walters told us.

Richmond Community Schools are closed due to the fire under the guidance of the EMA. On the school’s website, they say there will be no e-learning and everyone is encouraged to follow the shelter-in-place order.

We will continue following this story and update you as new information becomes available.