UPDATE: Mitchell mulch fire out, firefighters on standby
Indiana Department of Homeland Security officials say the fire is 95% out, but units are still on standby monitoring for any hot spots that may rekindle.
MITCHELL, Ind. – Officials with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security say a fire that has been burning for more than a day at the Fibertech mulch facility is 70% contained. Slower, weaker winds are credited with helping get the fire under control. Despite that, heavy smoke continued to flood the town of Mitchell on Friday, as crews battled the massive mulch fire.
Residents who were evacuated are being allowed back into their homes at their own discretion. Officials say between ten and fifteen homes within a half-mile radius of the plant were evacuated as a precaution.
“They came to us about 10:30 a.m. and told us the smoke was toxic and we had to evacuate,” said resident Brent Mundy. He and his family spent Thursday night at a friend’s house just to be safe.
“Just one big great wall of smoke,” said another neighbor.
Thick heavy smoke floods the town making it difficult for people to breathe. Lawrence County EMA urges anyone who inhaled the smoke to see a doctor.
“It is a solid mulch pile that covers seven acres. It is not one stack. They run into like a valley with a chain of mountains,” said Valeria Luchauer with Lawrence County EMA.
Neighbors say the orange tinted thick smoke overtook their streets Thursday. More than a half-dozen firefighters have been treated for various injuries.
“We did air monitoring and it showed some benzine, carbon monoxide, trace ammonias, and some organic matters. The winds were stronger today so it is dissipating,” said Luchauer.
People shut their windows and stayed inside while at least 13 families were told to evacuate the area.
“It has just been blocking the sun and it is hard to breathe. It is horrible,” said resident Michelle Smoot.
Local schools closed due to the heavy smoke and fire at the Fibertech Plant, which makes wood pallets and produces bulk mulch.
“I had a friend who had an asthma attack at recess. When we went to the bus stop the teachers told us to cover our mouths with our shirts too,” said student Devin Smoot.
The National Guard tried to stop the fire with aerial water drops. Despite those efforts, high winds kept the water from having much effect.
Now, crews are trying to move the mulch to a nearby wetland to stop the fire. EMA officials still urge people to avoid the area to prevent inhaling the orange smoke.