Scrapyard Fire Out; Crews Credit Changes for Faster Response

by Josh Colletta
Smoke seen coming from the MetalX facility in Delta this afternoon.
Courtesy: Brittany Roof / Wauseon Fire Department

LAST UPDATED: 10:53 AM 3/10/2020

The second fire to occur in the past six months at the MetalX scrapyard in Delta is now out.

Toledo Fire Department Public Information Officer Sterling Rahe, speaking to news crews on the scene, said the call first came in around 1:40 PM Monday afternoon.

Assistance was immediately requested, and in addition to Delta’s fire department, crews from Swanton, Wauseon, Monclova, Liberty Center, Lyons and Toledo all worked to combat the blaze.

The burning scrap pile was described as very large, estimated at about 40 to 50 feet tall. Rahe said the fire was deep-seated under the pile, making the fight all that more difficult as the materials had to be moved out of the way. That made it necessary for crews to stay clear of possible collapse areas while attacking the source.

Rahe said the plan of attack was to pull apart the pile with heavy equipment and dig a trench around it in the surrounding unburnt areas. Crews used as much water from above as possible, and that achieved some success, but it was still a lengthy fight.

While officials don’t know exactly what materials are in the pile, Rahe confirmed that some metals do react violently to water in a fire, which could have played a factor in fighting the blaze. Foam was requested and brought in from the outset to be used if and when necessary.

Rahe said firefighters were using oxygen masks, as the smoke in the immediate vicinity could contain toxic materials. Officials do not believe there is any danger to area residents, but the Ohio E.P.A. is investigating to be certain, and if you’re experiencing any respiratory or medical issues that you think may be related to the fire, do not hesitate to call 911.

The E.P.A. will also be testing water runoff around the scrapyard.

During the ordeal, officials asked people in the immediate area to either shelter in place or leave for an area with clear air. Notice was also given early Monday afternoon to avoid U.S. 20A and S.R. 109, but the roads were not closed, and traffic was not interrupted.

The Pike-Delta-York School District brought students inside from afternoon recess Monday and kept them indoors until dismissal.

Delta Fire Chief Scott Smith says an electrical short somewhere in the pile likely started the blaze, which he adds is not uncommon at scrapyards.

As to reports of small explosions being heard coming from the pile, Rahe had no information on what could be causing them other than to note that there was a lot of debris in the burning pile, and it’s exact composition was unclear.

MetalX was the site of a larger scrap fire back in September. Some 30 different fire departments from across the region helped fight that blaze in an effort that took more than 24 hours.

Rahe says that while he couldn’t speak directly to how the lessons learned in that fire apply to this one, the departments involved in the September incident were debriefed on what was done and what could work better. He added that fire departments constantly assess their methods for effectiveness, and the previous MetalX fire was no different.

He did note that one of the key lessons from the last fire was to quickly call for mutual aid, which was done on Monday.

Also a change since last time: MetalX implemented a new policy of separating materials into multiple, smaller piles so that flames don’t spread as easily, and crews can attack a fire more effectively.

Rahe also said that the crews on the scene this time around were familiar enough with the facility from September that they were better able to develop a plan to handle this fire.

In the previous incident, the smell of smoke was reported from parts of metro Detroit all the way to Michigan’s St. Joseph County. The United States Environmental Protection Agency conducted air quality tests in the wake of that fire, but found that there were no harmful chemicals present.

WTOL reports that this fire was not as extreme, with a smoke cloud visible up to 10 miles away and smoke in the air for about 3 miles — a difference that likely comes thanks to the pile separation and quick containment efforts.

No injuries have been reported in the incident.

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