Crews continue battling massive fire at Lami-Plast in Elkhart

Elkhart County fire crews are asking people to stay away from the area as they work to get the fire under control.

Posted on Feb. 2, 2014 at 5:52 a.m. | Updated on Feb. 2, 2014 at 1:04 p.m.

ELKHART — Two firefighters were taken to a hospital after being injured while battling a large fire at the Lami-Plast building at 25790 Woodlawn Ave., Elkhart, this morning.

The firefighters, one from Cleveland Township Fire Department and another from Edwardsburg Fire Department, had minor injuries after a hose burst, said Jo Johnston, assistant fire chief with Osolo Township Fire Department.

"These conditions are not the best for firefighters' health," Johnston said, adding that the combination of water, snow, ice and chemicals are making the fire difficult to contain.

Johnston said Sunday afternoon that he believes both firefighters had been treated and released.

PHOTO GALLERY: Crews respond to factory fire in Elkhart

Fire crews are still on the scene and Johnston said that the fire likely won't be completely out until late Sunday night, Feb. 2, or early Monday morning, Feb. 3. Firefighters from several local departments have been working the scene since the call came in just after 2 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 2, a dispatcher with the Elkhart County 911 Center confirmed.

The fire has been difficult to control and extinguish for several reasons.

Kathryn Wells, the Lami-Plast plant manager, said the building contained fiberglass that the company produces for the RV industry.

Making matters worse, a lot of the burning material was covered by the building's metal roof when it collapsed.

"The metal roof caves in on top of it and then you have a whole bunch of stuff burning underneath the metal roof," Johnston said.

To help the situation, a Niblock excavator was called in to scrape the roof off, exposing the material that is actually on fire. That allows water from the hoses to reach the burning material.

Johnston said that the assistance of the excavator could mean the fire will be under control a bit earlier than originally thought.

"We'd like to be out of here before the end of the night tonight," he said. "The excavator's making quite a difference."

Gas lines and electricity in the immediate vicinity of the fire will be shut off as a precaution. The Elkhart County Health Department will likely assess the heavy black smoke rising from the fire and drifting south, Johnston said.

I&M and NIPSCO said there had been no power outages associated with the fire as of 6 p.m. Sunday.

A fire marshal was on scene Sunday afternoon beginning a preliminary investigation, Johnston said. The full investigation will not get under way, however, until the blaze is brought under control.

People traveling through the area, either to get to a location nearby or because they're curious about the fire, are urged to stay away as firefighters work to get the fire under control.

Wells said the building was "a total loss."

She said approximately 18 employees generally work out of the building, which is the company's only production facility.

Lami-Plast will not open tomorrow, Wells said.

Osolo Township Fire Department was originally called to the building around 11 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, because the metal roof of the building collapsed under the weight of snow near a gas meter. Johnston said that they did not see any signs of fire or issues with gas and cleared the scene. They were called back about three hours later and found the building nearly engulfed.

Osolo Township Fire Department initially responded before other crews were called for assistance.

Elkhart City, Penn, Edwardsburg, Bristol, Concord, Harrison, Mishawaka, Porter, Clay, Cleveland Township and Osceola fire departments are also battling the fire.

Matthew Schrock lives in the nearby Northway Manor Apartments. He said he was the second person to call 911 about the fire after he heard a loud noise around 1 a.m. and looked outside.

"It kind of sounded like metal falling or small explosion," he said.

Thick, black smoke could still be seen rising from the fire and drifting south at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The pillar of smoke was visible from downtown Elkhart.

Both the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Elkhart County Health Department have been monitoring the smoke and water runoff.

As of Sunday afternoon, neither agency had reported any adverse findings, Johnston said.

This story is still developing. We will post updates as they are available.

Digital editor Anne Christnovich and reporter Nick Wesman contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this story incorrectly stated who was responding to the fire. It has been updated and is now correct.


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