Air testing ongoing in Parkersburg as fire continues to burn at warehouse

Firefighters continue to fight a fire at the former Ames plant in Parkersburg. (WCHS/WVAH)

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice has issued a state of emergency in Wood County where a warehouse continues to burn on Camden Avenue in Parkersburg. The state says the declaration will further the commitment of state assets.

Wood County schools were closed Monday and will be closed again on Tuesday as a precaution. County offices are also closed on Tuesday.

Wood County hired contractor Specialized Professional Services, Inc. out of Pennsylvania to "help us continue to fight this most aggressively," commission president Blair Couch said at a Monday evening news conference. "They were on sight today providing additional resources, additional water flow through pumps out of the Little Kanawha."

The county has also hired a monitoring company, Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, to sample the air, Couch said. They were expected to be on site around 6:00 p.m. on Monday.

A local company through a state contract will test the results which are said to be immediately shared with the public. "That's the most common question I get, 'what's in this stuff?' And until we have test results, we will not know," Couch said.

The fire has been burning for nearly three days as air quality concerns continue to grow.

"It just totally amazes me, just blows my mind," Harvey Ray says. Ray worked at the Ames plant in 1977. "I couldn't imagine it going up like that. It's just amazing."

The former tool plant was operating as a warehouse that stored recycled plastics. It is owned by Surnaik Holdings of WV, LLC. Two of the company's owners, who were present at a Monday morning county commission meeting, declined comment to Eyewitness News.

"It has taxed the resources. I don't think there is any department designed to fight a large fire for over 48 hours," Couch said after the meeting.

The mood shifted from defeated to hopeful Monday morning as state officials assured Wood County that it would offer whatever financial help and additional resources that the area needed.

"It's the biggest relief in the world, for me, because the situation is -- do we just let it burn itself out, which would take weeks? That's not safe for the environment. It's not safe for the health and safety of our citizens and those across the river in Belpre and Washington County," Couch said.

An alert was sent out warning residents that the change in weather on Monday was pushing the still visible massive black cloud of smoke further to the ground, in turn, affecting more homes and businesses.

Tony Edwards with the National Weather Service said weather conditions would be more favorable and push the plume higher later Monday evening and into Tuesday. "The plume will be able to rise and escape a little better. It should be heading off to the north," he said. Edwards said it would help efforts and improve air quality.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is monitoring particulate matter from the burnt plastics and continuing to monitor air quality.

"None of the sampling, so far, has yielded results that have spurred causes of concern at this time. The goal is to make sure that the testing is as comprehensive as possible to rule out any potential risks to public health and safety," explained Lawrence Messina, spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

"We do know that the warehouse manager was able to provide some material safety data sheets to first responders that gives us some idea of what's on site. Again, nothing that raises red flags in terms of explicit public health risk," Messina said. "We don't have all the answers yet. That's why we have the resources that we are bringing to bare at this time."

The West Virginia State Fire Marshal's Office is investigating the cause of the fire. Deputy State Fire Marshal Jason Baltic said the investigation is ongoing. "We're following up leads and tracking people down, starting to some interviews and such. That's just mainly to find out what caused the fire. We're not saying the fire is arson, we do not know that yet. Right now, the fire is undetermined," Baltic said.

Building was inspected in 2008 and there was a working sprinkler system in the building at that time.

Officials plan to hold another news conference on Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. to provide further updates.

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