Indianapolis warehouse fire brought under control after 8 hours, residents return home

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INDIANAPOLIS - A warehouse fire that began just before 1 p.m. Saturday was brought under control after nearly eight hours, though hot spots could continue to smolder for several days, fire investigators said.

The fire broke out at 220 Belmont Ave. in a building that formerly housed a Link Belt facility. The facility is approximately one mile from downtown Indianapolis. The 440,000-square-foot building was being leased by Shelter Distribution, Mercury Trucking, Zen Trucking, Nationwide OTR and two general contractors. Former workers said it is at least 90 years old.

Indianapolis investigators said late Saturday that about 60 percent of the building that houses six businesses had collapsed. The fire also burned the Belmont Warehousing building across the street.

Evacuations of a five-block area around the fire were lifted early Sunday morning. Officials were concerned about toxins from the heavy, black smoke wafting through the air.

Indianapolis police said that up to 100 homes were evacuated bounded by Harding Street and Belmont Avenue from east to west and from Oliver Avenue to Washington Street south to north.

Officers drove down the streets, using a loudspeaker to detail the evacuation. They then went door-to-door to follow up.

The fire was in a warehouse that contains 65,000 square feet of wooden pallets, siding and heavy equipment, along with 85,000 square feet of tires, officials said.

Explosions rocked the building several times as the fire raged, and it will take quite some time to douse all the hotspots, Indianapolis fire Cpt. Rita Burris said. About 30 propane tanks exploded during the fire.

"They have not done a whole lot of work interior because they could not get in there, and it's floor to ceiling tires, burning pallets, and siding," Burris said. "The walls around the interior have collapsed enough that they have started the process of pulling some of that equipment out. So, they are working to get backhoes and Bobcats here on scene so they can start pulling that equipment out and get under those piles of tires to get hotspots out."

No one was inside the buildings that burned, but four firefighters suffered minor injured while battling the fire, Burris said. About 200 emergency personnel, including firefighters from seven departments, were involved in the fight.

A few nearby residents who complained of smoke inhalation were checked out at the scene. None were taken to hospitals.

Fire officials had been concerned that the blaze could spread because burning embers had been lifted into the air, scattering smoldering debris. There were several small Dumpster and nearby building fires started by burning debris.

Shortly after the fire began, reports poured into Scripps sister station, RTV6,  through social media and other means, sharing pictures of black smoke emanating from the blaze as seen from Indianapolis and surrounding counties.

Air quality experts from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Marion County Health Department were monitoring the situation.

People who live downwind of the fire outside the evacuation zone were urged to keep their windows closed.

"They just told us that it was bad that we were out here, in general," said Myra Rodreguez, who lives nearby. "The air was polluted, and we just need to go."

A shelter was set up at 441 E. 10th St., but most of the evacuees chose to stay with family members.

It was not immediately known what sparked the blaze. Investigators don't expect to be able to get into the rubble until Monday, at the earliest.

Fire officials thanked those who helped firefighters and other first responders during the fight, including the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church of Indianapolis, who supplied hundreds of sandwiches.

Marsh and Kroger stories supplied water and Gatorade to crews. People who want to donate supplies to firefighters can do so at Station No. 5, at 450 W. 21st St.

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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