NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A large industrial fire at a federal Superfund site in central Tennessee was almost completely contained on Thursday evening, a day and a half after it started.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency On-Scene Coordinator Kevin Eichinger said in a phone interview that officials were continuing to monitor air quality around the site in rural Hickman County, about 45 miles southwest of Nashville. The fire was about 95 percent contained.
About 300 people were evacuated and four nearby schools were closed after the fire started Wednesday morning at a plastics recycling business on a portion of the former Wrigley Charcoal Plant.
Firefighting efforts were abandoned Wednesday afternoon over fears that nearby propane tanks could explode.
The fire eventually burned away from the tanks and contractors with heavy equipment began smothering the fire with dirt early Thursday morning.
By late Thursday afternoon some residents were being allowed to return to their homes, County Mayor Steve Gregory announced in a news conference. And there were plans for the schools to reopen on Friday.
There have been no reports of injuries.
Eichinger said that air quality monitoring found unhealthy levels of particulate matter near the fire, so the evacuation was warranted. He said the monitoring would continue for a while, even after the fire is put out.
Industrial Plastics Co. official Pat Nicks, reached by telephone, declined to comment on the situation.
The company experienced another large fire in December 2007. According to reports from the time in the Hickman County Times, that fire started with a large stove used to help pulverize plastic airplane windows and turn them into plastic pellets. Newspaper Editor Brad Martin said the 2007 fire consumed six tractor-trailer loads of the windows and shot flames 60 feet into the air.
Jimmy Vest, who lives about 3 miles from the site, said in a phone interview that the fire produced a cloud of black smoke that blocked out the sun and a strong smell of burning plastic.
He said ash pieces larger than his hand were falling from the sky into his yard.
"It looks like parts of boxes and plastic," he said. "It's weird. I've never seen anything like it."
Eichinger said state and federal environmental officials will determine what needs to be done to clean up the site after the fire is out. He said efforts are being made to prevent toxic runoff into nearby Mill Creek, including installing silt fencing.
Eichinger said fire investigators had not yet begun determining the cause of the blaze.
Federal Superfund sites were created to clean up areas that contain hazardous toxic waste. The EPA website said the former Wrigley Charcoal Plant, located northwest of Highway 100, was placed on the National Priorities List in 1989 because of contaminated debris, ground water and soil in the county of about 24,000. The Superfund area includes a 35-acre primary site and surrounding areas comprising about 300 acres.
According to the EPA website, the Superfund site was home to various industrial operations, including iron, charcoal and wood distillation product manufacturing, beginning in 1880. Contaminants of concern at the site include wood tar chemicals, metals and volatile organic compounds.