Fire at Elkhart's Lami-Plast continues into Sunday evening

Twelve fire departments responded to the blaze, which started around 2 a.m. Sunday. Two firefighters were injured while trying to put out the flames.

Posted on Feb. 2, 2014 at 7:13 p.m.

ELKHART — An early morning turned into a long day for crews battling a fire on Elkhart's north side Sunday, Feb. 2.

Crews from a dozen fire departments battled a fire at Lami-Plast, 25790 Woodlawn Ave., for most of the day. As of 10:40 p.m. Sunday, firefighters were still on the scene trying to control the blaze.

Osolo Township fire crews were called first to the facility around 2 a.m. Sunday. Upon arriving, they found the building fully involved and called for assistance.

Elkhart, Edwardsburg, Bristol, Mishawaka and Osceola city and Penn, Concord, Harrison, Porter, Clay, Cleveland township fire departments provided assistance.

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Osolo was initially called to the building at 11 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, after part of the metal roof collapsed under the weight of snow.

According to Assistant Chief Jo Johnston, the roof collapsed near a gas meter but they did not find any signs of a fire or issues with the gas at that time.

About three hours later, however, calls started coming in about a fire at the facility.

Matthew Schrock, an Elkhart resident who lives in the nearby Northway Manor Apartments, said he heard a loud noise around 1 a.m. Sunday. He was then the second person to call 911 about the blaze.

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

During the early stages of the battle, two firefighters were injured and had to be taken to the hospital. Johnston said he believed both had been treated and released by Sunday afternoon.

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

As of Sunday evening, crews were still working to control the blaze. Johnston said the fire may not be completely out until late Sunday night or early Monday morning.

Several other factors made the fire difficult to control.

Kathryn Wells, plant manager of Lami-Plast, said the building had been filled with fiberglass. The company produces the material for the RV industry.

Compounding the problem was the fact that the rest of the metal roof had collapsed on top of the burning material.

Fire crews called in an excavator from Niblock to help scrape the roof away from the fiberglass to allow for water to reach the flames.

Johnston said Sunday afternoon the assistance from the excavator helped firefighters significantly, allowing them access to the burning material.

He hoped exposing the flames would expedite controlling the fire, but black smoke continued to billow from the building into Sunday evening.

Johnston said the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the Elkhart County Health Department had been monitoring the smoke as well as water runoff in the area.

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

It was clear early on there would be no saving the building.

Wells said the damage rendered the facility "a total loss."

A fire marshal was on hand Sunday afternoon to begin a preliminary investigation but could not conduct a full study until the fire was under control.

Wells said about 18 people work in the building, Lami-Plast's only production facility. No one was working at the time of the fire, and Wells said there would be no work for employees Monday.

"We're doing everything we can to get people back to work as soon as possible," she said.

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.

Digital editor Anne Christnovich and digital producer Krystal Vivian contributed to this report.

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