EAST CHICAGO, Ind.-A tire warehouse owned by Rubber Material Handling Resource Corp. which erupted in flames July 16, is continuing to create major headaches not only for weary firefighters still trying to put out the blaze, but for its owner, as well. Dan McArdle said he will suffer a financial blow that likely will continue to mount until litigation with nearby residents and others is settled.
In an interview published Aug. 1 in The Times of Munster, Ind., Mr. McArdle said he canceled the insurance for his company six months ago because he couldn't afford the $20,000 annual premium.
Now the monumental effort to extinguish the fire is costing him $30,000 a day.
When the fire began, the warehouse-home to a recycling business he started five years ago-stored an estimated 45,000 tons of scrap tires that were being processed into tire-derived fuel and crumb rubber. Billowing black smoke and firefighting efforts have forced at least three evacuations of almost 1,000 residents from a 12-square-block area.
As TIRE BUSINESS went to press, firefighters were still trying to extinguish the fire.
On July 19, East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick declared a state of emergency in order for firefighting crews from Hammond, Gary and the Amoco Corp. to gain reimbursement for their costs in assisting East Chicago firefighters.
Firefighting teams are being advised by members of Williams Fire and Hazard Control, a Houston-based company that specializes in fighting petroleum-based fires. The company was involved in putting out oil well fires set by the Iraqi army in Kuwaiti oil fields during the Persian Gulf War.
Mr. McArdle has kept a vigil at the scene, talking with engineers, firefighters and construction workers about how to extinguish the fire as quickly as possible.
``When I saw it (the fire) go to the front of the building and grab that house across the street, if I had a gun in the car, I'd probably have shot myself,'' he said.
``I was throwing up in the back, and the guy there says, `What's wrong?' and I said, `Man, you won't believe what I just lost.' ''
Within two days, he had arranged for wrecking crews to tear down the building and brought in industrial equipment for demolition. Crews used a crane to lift away the building's collapsed roof, which had shielded much of the burning rubber from the estimated 4,000 to 6,000 gallons of water firefighters have been pouring on the tires each minute.
By July 29, firefighters had removed and extinguished about 10,000 tons of the rubber inside the plant, which is 300 yards long, 200 feet wide and 60 feet high.
Even Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh has gotten involved in the effort.
``This fire...needs to be put out, and state government has assembled a cooperative team of city, county, state and private officials who will work around the clock to put out the fire,'' he said.
Mr. McArdle, an associate of Mayor Pastrick, is a member of the East Chicago Chamber of Commerce, the Salvation Army Advisory Board and the Tri-City Mental Health Advisory Board.
That won't prevent his financial losses from piling up, he said.
``I can see the city coming after us. I can see the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) coming after us.''
His lawyer, David Ranich, added: ``There will be a class action suit, no doubt.''
Mr. McArdle said he raced to the plant as soon as he heard it was on fire, and was standing in its northeast corner-where investigators believe the fire originated-when he heard an explosion.
He said he hoped an investigation would determine the fire's cause, but speculated it could have resulted from arson, a faulty oxygen line or a ruptured gas line that caused it to spread rapidly.
``I'd feel a lot better if I knew it wasn't actually something that we did in there that did it,'' the owner said. ``I'd definitely be happy for an investigation. I have nothing to hide.''
Some 60 neighborhood residents staged a ``die-in'' July 30 near the warehouse to stress their concern over the thick black clouds of smoke containing some 50 chemicals, including benzene, a carcinogen, silicone and zinc particles and other contaminants that have poured into nearby neighborhoods.
One resident described the fire scene as ``like the aftermath of a nuclear explosion-twisted sheet metal and girders everywhere and smoke thick from the burning rubber...just horrendous. They said the fire in the center is burning at 4,400 degrees.''
Other residents marched on city hall with a list of demands that included bringing in an independent physician to determine if the fumes are unhealthy.
The air around the perimeter of the warehouse is being tested around the clock by members of the U.S. Coast Guard's Atlantic Strike Team, based at Fort Dix, N.J., said Heidi Valetkevitch, a spokeswoman for the EPA's regional office in Chicago.
She said contaminants in the smoke coming from the warehouse are primarily an irritant, but could be harmful to people with respiratory problems, especially the elderly and very young.
Meanwhile, officials said East Chicago Firefighter Richard Grant-the only person injured in the blaze when the ladder he was on folded in half from the heat-is recuperating following surgery.
This story was compiled from Associated Press reports.