Safety Director: Weather played role in containing Ellwood City fire, no evacuations

Investigators are back on the scene of an industrial fire in Ellwood City, Pa.

ELLWOOD CITY, Pa. (WKBN) – The fire at the Inmetco plant in Ellwood City that kept firefighters busy all day Sunday is completely out. There were no rekindles of the fire since late Sunday night.

Ellwood City fire chief Rick Myers says 17 departments responded to the call.

He says they were prepared for something like this to happen.

“We were there probably three weeks ago and had a training at their facility.”

The call for the fire came in just before 9:00 a.m. Crews left around 6:30 last night.

When the smoke was at its heaviest, the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh could see it on radar.

It was so thick at times, people were asking on social media why they weren’t evacuated.

Lawrence County Director of Public Safety Brian Melcer said Monday the weather played a big role in keeping them from issuing an evacuation order for the nearby area. He said the winds were light Sunday and any hazardous material or toxic fumes were contained to the site.

Myers says tests showed the chemical wasn’t a threat to people nearby. He did say the smell was concerning.

“There was a pretty acidic smell along with the smoke but we were assured, even the firefighters on the scene, all of the fire personnel that were there, nobody was in any danger and no need for evacuations.”

Ellwood City Area School District’s superintendent, Joe Mancini, was also keeping a close eye on any potential evacuations. Since none were given, students were in school on Monday.

“We figured, get the kids in a safe place in school,” he said. “They’re inside.”

Employees were in the plant when the fire broke but none of them were injured. Four firefighters sustained chemical burns to their hands.

Investigators say the fire may have started inside a steel drum and spread to the rest of the building, but a cause for the fire has not been determined.

At the height of the fire, flames and smoke were shooting into the air and multiple explosions occurred. One witness said projectiles were flying through the air.

According to a 2012 Emergency Response Guide issued to fire departments, isolation and evacuation guidelines for a fire involving lithium batteries includes at least a half mile radius. The Inmetco plant recycles metals, including lithium batteries.

The Center for Disease Control’s website says lithium is toxic, however, it’s not the most hazardous chemical.

It says if anyone inhales the chemical, to get fresh air and rest. The website also suggests getting medical attention if you’re concerned.

 

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