NEBRASKA CITY, Neb.(Jan. 30, 2002)—A massive fire at a Nebraska City tire recycling firm has caused the evacuation of hundreds of local residents, injury to 13 firefighters and an untold amount of damage to the company.
Firefighters had extinguished two building fires as of Jan. 28 at EnTire Reycling Inc.'s headquarters at 215 N. First St., according to a spokesman for the Nebraska City Fire Department. Fires still burned, however, in four former grain silos on the property, which were filled with 2-inch rubber chips and crumb rubber made from approximately 100,000 scrap tires.
Two of the silos have collapsed, while the remaining two are tilting, the spokesman said. Actually, the collapse of the silos is good news to the firefighters who have battled the blaze since Jan. 23. “These are old steel silos, and while they're standing we can't get in them to fight the fires,” he said.
Police evacuated a 27-block area around the site's vicinity, including about 50 homes, a school and an apartment complex, according to the Web site of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. As of Jan. 30, “about 100” Nebraska City residents were still unable to return to their homes, the spokesman said, though he added he hadn't recently checked the count.
“They should be able to go home soon,” he said. “We're expecting a major snowstorm tonight that will curtail the particulate matter and smoke.”
The fire was discovered at EnTire on Jan. 23 shortly before 2:45 a.m., the time firefighters were called. About 12 hours later, an explosion on site injured the 13 firefighters. Three of them were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, a fourth with a broken leg. The others were treated and released.
A private firm from Houston that specializes in oil-rig fires has taken over the efforts to control the fire, the spokesman said. Officials of that firm said they are too busy directing operations at EnTire to talk to the press, he added.
Investigators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Nebraska State Fire Marshal's office are on site at the blaze, but they have still not determined what caused the fire, according to State Fire Marshal Ken Winters. “Right now we're concerned with putting out the fire in the silos and recovering that debris,” Mr. Winters said from his office in Lincoln, Neb.
EnTire Recyling has operated for six years in Nebraska City, a Missouri River town about 50 miles south of Omaha. According to its Web site, EnTire is a cryogenic grinder of scrap tires to create high-quality crumb rubber in sizes ranging from 4+ (1/4 inch) to 30- (“smaller than salt and pepper,” according to the company).
The firm supplies customers in 17 states with crumb rubber for a wide range of applications, including rubberized asphalt, running tracks, molding operations, new tire manufacture, septic drain fields, entrance/utility mats, horse arenas and athletic fields. Its FieldTurf athletic field surfacing is in use at several Nebraska high schools and colleges, including the University of Nebraska.
Jim Gerking, owner of EnTire Recycling, declined comment on the blaze.