With Resources and Finances Strained, Continued Response to Wood County Fire Remains in Question

Oct 21, 2017

For the latest on the fire in Wood County, see here.

 

Updated: October 22, 2017 at 10:36 p.m.

 

With resources and funding in question, officials in Wood County are still trying to determine how to deal with a large industrial fire just outside of the city limits of Parkersburg. The fire, which started about 1 a.m. Saturday and destroyed a warehouse facility, is expected to burn for days as local officials still have no timeline as to when the fire will be out.

 

Thick black smoke continued to billow Sunday night from the building that was once an Ames tool plant. While no injuries have been reported, the scene has been declared a disaster area, Wood County Schools are closed on Monday and local officials have issued a voluntary shelter in place for the surrounding area.

The Wood County Commission held an emergency meeting Sunday night to discuss continued response, as city water resources have been strained and volunteer-led firefighting efforts have been stretched to capacity.

"I spent a lot of time with the incident commander and the issue gets to be that volunteer fire departments are, therefore, volunteer," said commission president Blair Couch. "It was lucky that it was on a Friday night, Saturday, Sunday because a lot of volunteers were available. We had a lot of units available."

With volunteer resource availability lessening, county commissioners were joined at the meeting by representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the State Fire Marshal's Office, the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the Division of Highways, as well as Congressman David McKinley's office. 

Commissioners said the county had spend about $200,000 in two days trying to fight the fire. Private contractor Specialized Professional Services, Inc. of Washington, Pennsylvania estimated continued costs of extinguishing the fire and other remediation efforts at about $60,000 per day, which would take at least five more days. The company delivered firefighting foam to the scene over the weekend. 

"We called this special meeting because we're getting taxed beyond our resources," said  Couch in an interview after the meeting. "We've expended funds and reduced the volatile situation to being more manageable, but it continues to burn."

Couch and other commissioners asked representatives from the company who owns the warehouse, Surnaik Holdings of WV, LLC, if they were able to help finance extinguishing the fire. Company officials provided blueprints of the facility to the commission but did not agree at Sunday night's meeting to fund continued response. They did offer employee resources to aid other efforts.

"I think that the individual property owner understands that -- not only does he have to extinguish this fire, even if some other resource would do that for him -- then he has the long phase of cleaning up and mitigating a hazardous disaster," said Couch after the meeting. "There's no other way to look at it. He's going to have to expend money to fix the situation."

Couch said county officials are also looking to the state to help get the fire out, whether that is manpower and resources or help with funding.

"I think the state has resources but now we're going away from 'Can you provide us a truck?' to 'Can you provide us money?' And the subcontractor that's here that's offered this service to work on this has agreed to come back at 9:30 in the morning to see if solutions are made," he said.

The County Commission is scheduled to meet again on Monday morning to make further decisions about financing the response and to what degree Specialized Professional Services, Inc. will be contracted.

Mark Stewart, of the Lubeck Volunteer Fire Department, said plastic pellets were being stored at the warehouse, although he could not specify the exact compounds. He said he could not confirm or deny any additional materials that might have been stored on site but also said Material Safety Data Sheets for the stored materials have been turned over to local and state officials and are currently being reviewed.

 

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection said they have been testing air samples and burnt material from the site, and that the immediate and surrounding area was found to be within acceptable air quality limits.

 

Stewart told the County Commission roughly 9 million gallons of water had been used in attempting to put the fire out, with about 3 million gallons being drawn from the Little Kanawha River to lessen the strain on Parkersburg's water supply.

 

Thirty-one volunteer fire departments from seven counties in West Virginia and Ohio assisted with response efforts thus far. Officials from the state Fire Marshal's Office say the cause of the fire has yet to be determined and the investigation is ongoing.