Officials: Hickman County Plant Fire 95 Percent Contained - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Officials: Hickman County Plant Fire 95 Percent Contained

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LYLES, Tenn. – Evacuation orders remain in effect for hundreds of residents in Hickman County as firefighters make progress on a large industrial fire.

Hickman County Mayor Steve Gregory said Thursday morning that firefighters are trying to smother the blaze by covering it with dirt. Officials with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said the blaze was 95 percent contained on Thursday afternoon.

Gregory said firefighters restarted efforts to fight the blaze around midnight after backing off earlier due to concerns that two propane tanks could explode. He said officials later determined that the tanks weren't a danger.

Mayor Gregory said they hope to have the blaze contained by Thursday night or Friday, at the latest.

"Simply because the weather is about to change, the winds are picking up. They're calling for a possibility of heavy rains tomorrow (Friday)," Mayor Gregory said at a news conference Thursday.

The fire at Industrial Plastics Recycle on Plant Road has been burning since 10 a.m. Wednesday.

A four-mile radius of the plant remained under evacuation orders Thursday, including homes, schools and businesses. Mayor Gregory said they hope evacuated residents may be able to return as early as Thursday afternoon or evening.

"I think we've made the right decision in doing the evacuation, just to be on the cautious side," said Mayor Gregory.

The Environmental Protection Agency has placed several air quality monitoring stations in the area, including at the fire site, one mile away, and possibly two mobile units.

"The concern with the smoke has been the irritants, the particulate matter. There are not chemical concerns with the gas or with the smoke because it's been burned off by the fire," said Jeremy Heidt, a spokesman for TEMA. "What that is it's going to come down as soot, and it's going to be inhaled, going to be an irritant to anyone with respiratory issues, like the elderly, the infirm, children."

Once the evacuation order is lifted, TEMA advises residents to hose down their property with water to get rid of the residue.

Hickman County Sheriff Randal Ward said Thursday that they were working to keep people away from the site, due to health and safety concerns from some smoke still lingering. His deputies arrested one looter Wednesday night, catching him as he tried to steal things from the area. 

"As of right now, our main concern, as far as my department, is the safety of the people," Sheriff Ward said.

Sheriff Ward cautioned "sightseers" from trying to get close the fire, and said they have blocked off roads going into the area.

Officials will give another update at 4 p.m. Thursday on the status of the fire as well as the evacuation order.

Officials said Thursday that approximately 300 people were evacuated. The Red Cross said only five residents stayed a temporary shelter overnight at the Fairfield Church of Christ on Highway 100 in Centerville. They closed it Thursday afternoon, but said they will provide another night of lodging if residents are unable to return home Thursday night.

Four schools in the radius, East Hickman Middle, East  Hickman Intermediate, East Hickman Elementary, and East Hickman High School, remained closed Thursday, upon recommendation from the EPA, TEMA, and other local agencies, due to the heavy air pollution. Officials said Thursday they hope students can go back to class on Friday, which was previously scheduled as a half day.

There were no reports of injuries.

The Red Cross in Nashville said they coordinated with Hickman County Emergency Management Agency to determine how they can best assist those who have been evacuated. An emergency response vehicle filled with snacks and water went to the area to provide food and shelter as needed.

Emergency workers were initially concerned over potentially toxic fumes rising from the plastics recycling plant located on a contaminated federal Superfund site. Crews are keeping a close eye to where the smoke is going.

"The biggest concern is the wind and if this smoke and all gets blown low to the ground. Right now it's doing OK but if it gets down to the ground we got another problem I think we are going to have to evaluate," Mayor Gregory said Wednesday afternoon.

A large smoke plume could be seen for miles when the fire started.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman James Pinkney said someone from the agency was headed to the scene to assist. Superfund sites were created for the cleanup or removal of areas in which hazardous toxic waste was dumped.

The EPA website said the former Wrigley Charcoal Plant, located northwest of Highway 100, was placed on the National Priorities List in 1989 because of contaminated debris, ground water and soil in the county of about 24,000. The Superfund area includes a 35-acre primary site and surrounding areas comprising about 300 acres.

Industrial Plastics Recycling, a small-scale recycling facility that works on metals and plastics and there is waste product storage on a portion of the primary site.

According to the website, the EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation have investigated conditions at the property and taken steps to clean up the site "in order to protect people and the environment from contamination." The investigation and clean-up are ongoing.

TDEC spokeswoman Kelly Brockman said state environmental officials will have to wait until the fire is out before they can assess possible public health and environmental implications.

According to the EPA website, the Superfund site was home to various industrial operations, including iron, charcoal and wood distillation product manufacturing, beginning in 1880. Contaminants of concern include wood tar chemicals, metals and volatile organic compounds.

(The Associated Press Contributed To This Report.)

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