Plant Employees to be Interviewed After Fire

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PAINESVILLE TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Painesville Township Fire Chief Frank Whittaker provided an update to Fox 8 News regarding a fire at an industrial plant that was so intense firefighters had to take a rare defensive stance and let the thing burn out on its own.

On Saturday evening, Whittaker said the fire department was "99 percent sure" the fire was finally out two days after it began.

Crews had remained at the scene earlier in the day as the building continued to smolder and ultimately filled the basement with foam.

A cause was still unknown but employees at the plant will be interviewed, likely beginning on Monday.

The Lake County Sheriff's Office says the five-alarm blaze broke out at the Painesville Township factory around 9:45 a.m. on Thursday at Hardy Industrial Technologies in the 600 block of Hardy Road.

"We manufacture primarily vegetable-based nutrition and wax products," said John Malloy, the chief financial officer for the plant.

Heavy, black smoke and flames were seen pouring from the building for hours.

Throughout the day on Thursday, more than 10 fire departments responded to assist Painesville firefighters. Crews were ordered out of the structure just after 11:30 a.m. because conditions became too dangerous inside, fire officials said.

Whittaker told Fox 8 News that the department was concerned about rail cars parallel to the building, which are filled with a vegetable-type oil. The substance is reportedly non-hazardous by itself, but poses a risk when near flames.

"When exposed to extreme temperatures as this building fire was, the tanks could have vented and if the vents didn't work they would have split and we would have had a catastrophic explosion," Whittaker said.

Fire officials said the smoke is basically vegetable oil burning off and it does not pose a hazard to the public.

"Certainly not toxic chemicals, we’ve had people downwind. We've had air monitors downwind and at this point we have not evacuated anybody," Whittaker said.

Jerry and Kimberly Lockhard live close to and downwind from the plant.

"(We are) staying indoors as much as we can. For myself, I'm not too concerned, but my wife has got asthma," Jerry Lockhard said.

"I have to do albuterol treatments and stuff like that and a rescue inhaler, but just trying to stay indoors," Kimberly Lockhard said.

Another neighbor recalled memories at the plant.

"My dad worked in that building for 42 years.  I was in and out all the time, playing, running around the shop," said R.C. Combs.

Officials said there were no reports of injuries.

"We have about 40 employees who are on site.  In the building, that were actually involved in this, probably about 12 people.  But everyone is safe and accounted for," added Malloy.

According to OSHA, Hardy Industrial Technologies has no previous citations.

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