Smoke rises from a fire at a burning plastics recycling plant on a contaminated federal Superfund site on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, near Lyles, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Evacuation orders remained in effect Thursday for hundreds of central Tennessee residents who live near a federal Superfund site where a large industrial fire has been burning since the day before.
Firefighters stopped trying to put out the blaze Wednesday, partly because of fears that two 1,000-gallon propane tanks there could explode and were waiting for the fire to burn itself out.
Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Dean Flener said that between 400 and 500 people were asked to leave the area, about 45 miles southwest of Nashville. School officials said another 1,800 or so students were evacuated Wednesday from four nearby schools out of concern over toxic fumes from the blaze. A shelter was set up.
Jimmy Vest lives about 3 miles from the fire and said the plume of black smoke was blocking out the sun and forming a cloud over his house Wednesday. The air smelled of burning plastic and ash pieces larger than his hand were falling from the sky into his yard.
"It looks like parts of boxes and plastic," he said. "It's weird. I've never seen anything like it."
Federal Superfund sites were created for the cleanup or removal of areas in which hazardous toxic waste was dumped.
The EPA website said the former Wrigley Charcoal Plant, located northwest of Highway 100, was placed on the National Priorities List in 1989 because of contaminated debris, ground water and soil in the county of about 24,000. The Superfund area includes a 35-acre primary site and surrounding areas comprising about 300 acres.
The fire occurred on a portion of the primary site occupied by Industrial Plastics Recycling, a small-scale facility that recycles metals and plastics and has waste product storage.
Skelton said there have not been any reports of injuries.
According to the EPA website, the Superfund site was home to various industrial operations, including iron, charcoal and wood distillation product manufacturing, beginning in 1880. Contaminants of concern at the site include wood tar chemicals, metals and volatile organic compounds.
Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeremy Heidt said the propane tanks on the site are designed with pressure release valves that should prevent them from exploding, but emergency officials were concerned that the valves might not work. That's why they pulled the firefighters off the scene.