UPDATE: Elkhart factory fire controlled but still blazing

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Elkhart, Ind. A blazing fire at an Elkhart fiberglass plant is undercontrol tonight, but still burning more than a day and a half later.

Crews were originally called to Lami Plast on Woodlawn Avenue around 11 p.m. Saturday, when an alarm went off in the building.

"The weight of the snow had collapsed the roof of the building," said Osolo Township Assistant Fire Chief Joe Johnston. "At that time, there was no fire, there was no gas leak, there was no imminent danger that required the presence of the fire department."

Around 2 a.m., firefighters were called back to the scene, where large flames could be seen coming from the roof of the building.

"If you were to take a building about the size of the football field and set that on fire, this is pretty close to what you have," Johnston said.

Several departments from St. Joseph and Elkhart counties were called to help.

Aerial lifts were brought in to help firefighters stop the large blaze from spreading to nearby businesses and homes.

Homes to the south of Lami Plast were evacuated because of heavy, thick smoke coming from the scene.

Johnston says the building had plastics, tar paper and laminating materials inside, which is what caused the smoke to be so dark. While those products aren't toxic, Johnston says they asked residents to leave their homes to ensure their safety.

"This is certainly not anything we would want any residents in the township to be living in or to be breathing over a long period of time," he said.

Even some of the residents who weren't evacuated also chose to leave their homes because of the thick smoke.

"The smoke is really affecting me," said Tina Yeakey, who lives down the street. "I have COPD and the smoke is really bad."

No one was inside the building at the time of the fire, but two firefighters were injured as they battled the blaze.

Johnston says the hose they were holding wasn't properly coupled, so the line blew out under the pressure of the water, knocking the firefighters down.

They were both taken to Elkhart General Hospital with minor injuries as a precaution. Johntson says their conditions are unknown.

They say the cold temperatures and snow-covered property make fighting the blaze complicated.

"You have to make sure that your firefighters stay warm and rested and switch them out a little more often because the cold can take a factor on the firefighter's endurance," Johnston said.

Several neighboring residents also complained of flooding from the massive amounts of water used to try to tame the flames. A factory next door reported at least 6 inches of water by midday and many residents said their lawns were flooded and frozen over.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has been on the scene to test air and water levels for toxicity.

"There's been nothing of significant value in the air readigns we've been taking with hand held meters," said IDEM on scene coordinator Rich Hackel. "Even if there weren't any chemicals of any sort -- it is a fire. There is soot, it is smoke and it can be iritating to your lungs. No one should be sitting in a smoke column of that size for any number of extensive horus without getting fresh air periodically."

Osolo Township firefighters say the State Fire Marshal has been on the scene but can't proceed with an investigation of the origins of the fire until the fire has been completely extinguished.

"He's already done some walk arounds," Assist. Chief Dean Rentfrow. "But until we get this fire out he can't do anything else."

A bulldozer was called in Monday to try to move some of the metal trapping parts of the fire.

"The metal roof fell down into the fires and it covered up all the product so to get that we've gotta get the product out of the way," Rentfrow said.


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