PLAINWELL, Mich. (WOOD) - Tuesday afternoon, fire crews extinguished the rekindle of a Monday afternoon fire at a chemical waste disposal facility in Plainwell.
Around 11:30 p.m. Monday, some of the hot spots rekindled, resulting in 25 to 30 explosions and smoke being seen from 300 yards away.
Officials are concerned with rain possibly interacting with water-reactive chemicals at Drug & Laboratory Disposal, Inc., 331 Broad St., resulting in the products burning and more explosions.
24 Hour News 8's Amanda Jarrett was inside the mobile command unit at the scene Tuesday morning to get the latest developments from officials.
The Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Young's Environmental Cleanup from Muskegon, arrived at the scene Tuesday to determine a strategy on how to deal with those chemicals.
Air-quality tests taken every hour show normal results, and the Plainwell Department of Public Safety says there is no danger.
A precautionary evacuation was put back into effect late Monday night for for residences a quarter mile northeast of the facility. That evacuation order was lifted around 5 p.m. Tuesday, according to the Plainwell Department of Public Safety. The fire and hazardous materials had been contained.
Three evacuated residents spent Monday night at Plainwell High School.
Businesses within a quarter mile of the scene were closed Tuesday. Broad Street and Oak Street remained closed Tuesday afternoon.
Residents said they heard as many as six explosions coming from the original afternoon fire Monday afternoon at the chemical waste disposal facility, which forced some nearby residents from their homes.
The fire sparked around 3 p.m. at the facility that disposes of academic, commercial and medical chemical waste.
The plant's owner and employees told the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that they were using chemicals to neutralize some acid-based compounds, which is a process that can generate a tremendous amount of heat, which is when the fire started. The fire then spread to a wooden stairwell, and as it burned it caused a lot of smoke, according to employees.
While they were trying to douse the flames, employees told the DEQ that some fire extinguishers were dropped near the flames, which caused them to explode due to the heat.
Witnesses who live nearby reported hearing six explosions before the fire was under control.
"You know the fireworks that go off on the Fourth where there's just a bright white flash? That's what it was like," resident Robert Prochno said.
They also said they could see a plume of black smoke.
"Pretty much like a mushroom cloud," resident Jamie Rutherford described. "It was just bad."
"At first you could actually get a whiff of it because it was blowing our way a little bit," Prochno added.
All of the businesses in the industrial area within 100 yards of the site were evacuated, according to Allegan County Emergency Management Director Scott Corbin.
Multiple fire crews responded and the fire was safely contained by 5:30 p.m.
"The fire was contained rather quickly. One of the problems you have with this place, of course, is there are many many chemicals here," Plainwell Department of Public Safety Sgt. David Rantz said.
Rantz said the challenge for firefighters was when a water pipe burst over reactive chemicals.
"So at that point we pulled everybody out. Removed everybody. We told Dispatch there should be about a quarter-mile evacuation," he said.
Several residences in that area were temporarily evacuated. About five hours later, Allegan County Central Dispatch said the evacuation ended, and residents were told they could return home.
Other residents nearby were asked to close their doors and windows, Emergency Management Director Corbin said.
There were no reports of serious injuries. All 50 people who work at the disposal site were accounted for and safe, Plainwell City Manager Eric Wilson said. A few firefighters were somewhat overwhelmed by the hot weather.
Firefighters found barrels containing some unknown chemicals. Ottawa County and Battle Creek Police Department hazmat teams were called to make sure all of the chemicals in the plant are secure.
Allegan County Emergency Management officials said Drug & Laboratory Disposal, Inc. has hired a private firm to help mitigate any hazardous materials situation that may still exist. That firm will remain on the scene until they get an all-clear from the DEQ, which could take several days.
Drug & Laboratory Disposal, Inc. released this statement Monday night:
"Drug & Laboratory Disposal, Inc. experienced a fire at its facility in Plainwell, MI today. Thanks to the quick and professional response of the emergency crews and our staff, the fire was contained to a limited portion of our processing area. We are grateful that no one was injured during this incident. We train regularly to handle emergency situations such as this. Our procedures worked as designed and all personnel were evacuated quickly from the facility. An investigation into
the cause of the fire is ongoing in cooperation with the appropriate authorities. We do not anticipate a break in service to our customers.We appreciate the support of our neighbors and surrounding community and apologize for any inconvenience this incident has caused."
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