Firefighters were getting ahead of the enormous fire at a plastics recycling plant in Summerville, Ga., by late Saturday afternoon, but the environmental impacts were still to be measured.
More than 100 firefighters from multiple agencies still were pouring water on the blaze Saturday, said Eddie Henderson, Chattooga Emergency Management Agency director.
“We’re on the downhill slide,” Henderson said late Saturday afternoon. “It’s still a fire, and it’s still a hazardous fire.”
People living around the plant who were evacuated Friday night were allowed home briefly to pick up clothes and tend to pets, Henderson said.
He wasn’t sure when the evacuation — a quarter-mile in most areas and a half-mile to the east, or downwind — would be lifted, but said results of EPA air monitoring were “excellent.”
Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency crews showed up about 3 a.m. and began installing air monitors.
Henderson said the crews tested air all the way to the Floyd County line for toxins thrown off by the fire.
“We did have some high readings this morning on the tops of the ridges, but they weren’t extreme. They would have been hazardous to someone with respiratory problems,” Henderson said.
He said the water used to battle the blaze, laden with scorched and melted plastics, was running into a creek behind the plant. He and Winters said there’s been no time yet to consider what the hazard might be to the environment.
“I’m not sure what EPA will do about that,” Henderson said.
The fire broke out after workers left Friday afternoon at the plant on Back Berryton Road, authorities said. Huge clouds of thick black smoke rose in the air as flames spread through bales of various plastics. The Associated Press reported that no serious injuries or fire damage was reported outside the privately owned complex, which recycles materials for the carpet industry.
Henderson said firefighters came in from all over, including Chattanooga-Hamilton County Rescue. Other crews came from Bartow, Catoosa, Cherokee, Floyd, Polk and Walker counties.
The city of Summerville was diverting water to fight the blaze, he said, adding that firefighters poured nearly 1 million gallons on the fire just in the first five hours.
EPA crews using backhoes worked Saturday pulling burning plastic debris from the building so firefighters could douse it, he said.
“We just appreciate everybody’s help,” Henderson said.
Winters said the same.
“Our fire crews just did an outstanding job. They had help from fire departments all across Georgia and even Tennessee. Our firemen had a really, really tough job on their hands, and they did an outstanding job making sure the fire was contained to the property. They really saved several homes in the area.”
Winters said the Georgia fire marshal has been on the scene and he expects there will be an investigation once the blaze is out.
He said the plant is owned by Ed Ledford. An Ed Ledford is listed as owner of North Georgia Textile Supply Co. in LaFayette, Ga., but he could not be reached by phone Saturday.
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...