Chemical Reaction Cause Investigated in Canton

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CANTON, Ohio-- Residents within a 21-block area of 22nd street NE and Maple were allowed to return to their homes on Tuesday after a chemical fire forced their evacuation, Monday afternoon.

Firefighters continued to pour water on hot spots that continued to smoulder at the former Convoy Containers Company plant.

Monday's fire sent a plume of potentially toxic smoke into the surrounding neighborhoods, driven by shifting winds.

The state and federal EPA was called in overnight to monitor air quality with sensors that were brought in during the night from Michigan.

"We're looking at sulfur, sulfur dioxide at this point. There may be others, but we have to investigate further to find out," said Canton Fire Captain Charles Day.

The trouble was from chemicals that were apparently stored in large quantities inside the building.

Firefighters who responded to the first calls of trouble Monday afternoon called in Hazmat crews after sensing the telltale smell of sulfur, which smells like rotten eggs.

But flames quickly engulfed the building forcing the firefighters to take a cautious approach and ask nearby residents to evacuate.

"We don't know exactly what process or cause started the problem, but the problem was a reaction that possibly developed into a fire. We don't know what came first: the reaction or the fire, but there was some chemical and some process. That is under investigation," said Day.

The company was believed to have been closed in 2011.

Many nearby neighbors said they never saw anyone come or go from the plant.

Workers were, however, believed to have been doing some work there recently but fire officials were not certain on Tuesday whether they had been working on the building or were in some way responsible for what was being stored there.

The stubborn fire kept many residents from returning to their homes Monday night.

The city set up shelter at the Canton Civic Center, where Kim Wendling stayed with her daughter.

"They made sure that me and my daughter was comfortable. It was pretty good but it was not the night that we planned when we were sitting on the porch and started seeing the fire trucks come," said Wendling.

Most of the people asked to leave their homes were willing to do so without much persuasion.

"We didn't know what to do. We was stunned. We have four kids so we have to send them to their dad and now I was calling all night trying to come back home, come back home," said Frankie O'Dell, whose home is right next to the smoldering plant.

O'Dell said he saw something that looked like smoke or a "vapor" coming from a part of the plant on Monday, and then sensed the telltale sulfur smell even before he knew there was a fire.

Also on Tuesday, the Canton City School District closed five schools closest to the fire as a precaution.

By noon on Tuesday, EPA officials said they were getting readings in the closest communities that showed no sulfur dioxide in the air and the all-clear was issued for residents to return to their homes.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no reports of injuries or illnesses as a result of the fire.

Investigators were interviewing the people who had last been working inside the building and planned not to demolish what was left of it until they were able to take a closer look.

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