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'This is a once in a career fire': Crews continue to battle Plainfield fire as air quality alerts in effect

Posted at 10:11 PM, Mar 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-17 22:11:33-04

PLAINFIELD — Smoke is still billowing from the Walmart fulfillment center in Hendricks County.

That's why the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has issued an air quality alert for Boone, Hamilton, Hendricks and Marion counties, encouraging people to stay inside.

"Thursday is specifically about all of the soot that may be in the air and fine particular matter that may be physically causing breathing issues," said Ben Easly, chief communications officer for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works.

Black smoke from Wednesday's massive fire could be seen across Indianapolis.

IDEM says it's causing air quality issues that could pose a risk to people, especially with underlying health issues.

IDEM and the Environmental Protection Agency are still testing debris and ashes to see if they are releasing toxic materials.

"This is a 1.1 billion square foot building full of product — all kinds of products. Clothing plastics, aerosols, fumes anything Walmart. with that we just don't know right now," said Jerry Bessler, battalion chief with the Washington Township-Avon Fire Department.

More than 200 firefighters have been battling the fire nonstop with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives taking the lead.

"We are still rotating fire trucks in and out to put water in here until they can get to the point they can put investigators inside," said Bessler.

Bessler said while fire departments wait for those reports, the public should avoid ash or any debris that may have fallen in your yard. If you have to dispose of it, use gloves and wear a mask.

"Make sure you protect yourselves. Firefighters we had our gear on we had our masks on. We don't want to be exposed to it and we don't want you to be exposed to it either because we don't know what's in it," he said.

IDEM says the wind will continue to blow the smoke to the northeast. Conditions are expected to improve overnight and tomorrow.

Meanwhile, remaining crews are awaiting heavy equipment that will allow them to access some of the areas that are still smoldering, said Plainfield Fire Chief Brent Anderson.

"I expect it to take at least another 12 hours after the arrival of that equipment to declare the fire out and allow investigators to begin their process. Fire units will remain to assist investigators as needed after the fire is extinguished," Anderson said.