AVON, Ind. — A fire at a Walmart warehouse distribution center has cast a large plume of smoke visible throughout Indianapolis. Nearly 200 firefighters are on scene with officials calling on anyone living near the looming plume of smoke to shelter in place and stay indoors along with not touching any of the debris that is raining down on the city’s west side.
Plainfield Fire Department officials confirmed the fire is at a 1.2 million square foot Walmart warehouse located at 9590 AllPoints Parkway between Avon and the Indianapolis International Airport. Neighboring facilities near the warehouse are being evacuated, officials said, as a precaution.
According to Plainfield Fire Chief Brent Anderson, the fire started inside the warehouse on the third floor a little before noon on Wednesday. Fire crews were training in the area and were able to respond within minutes, he said. Inside the warehouse, however, firefighters found a raging fire and smoke so thick they had zero visibility.
Anderson said firefighters fought the blaze inside the warehouse for a half-hour before having to retreat and pull crews out of the building and switch to a defensive operation. For a few minutes, two firefighters were unaccounted for during the retreat leading to a “few tense minutes”, Anderson said.
Fire officials said there are no injuries as a result of this fire and that around 1,000 Walmart employees were inside the warehouse at the time of the fire. All firefighters and employees are now accounted for.
Employees are being transported by Plainfield school buses to a reunification site, officials said. The reunification center has been established at 1750 Smith Road in Plainfield, an Amazon facility. Officials said many employees had to leave their phones during evacuation and couldn’t contact family.
Media crews on scene could hear several loud booms as they arrived at the warehouse. Officials do not know what started the fire and Anderson said “if you can think of it, it’s probably in there” when asked what may be burning inside the Walmart warehouse.
Officials said anyone who lives north of the facility is urged to shelter in place, stay indoors, and keep windows and doors closed. Air quality will continue to be monitored by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Citizens are asked to not touch any of the debris that is falling on the city’s west side.
Plainfield fire department officials said nearly 200 firefighters are on scene and the operation is expected to continue for at least the next 24 hours as they wait for the fire to cool. Water supplies are in short supply, another reason for the firefighters to fall back into a defensive operation.
“We’ve been using a lot of water and we can’t sustain that longterm so we’re going to have to cut back on our operations here, water consumption here,” Anderson explained.
Anderson said it could be days or weeks before fire officials know what started the fire.
“It will take quite some time to, first of all, bring this fire under control and then get it cool enough where we can get inside and investigate,” he said.
The Indianapolis Airport said currently there is no impact on airport operations due to the fire. They are continuing to monitor the situation, however.
Avon Intermediate School West sent out an alert to parents warning that bus routes are being affected due to the fire. Avon police said the following subdivisions are inaccessible to buses: Sun Chase, Ashford Estates, The Residence on Ronald Reagon and Bradley Addition.
“If you live in these subdivisions, please arrange to pick up your child at school. AIS West staff will remain on-site,” the school corporation said.
The Columbus branch of the U.S Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (AFT) is responding to the fire.
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Walmart sent the following statement:
We’re thankful to local emergency crews for their quick response and for helping us account for the safety of our associates and those at the facility. We’ll continue working with police and fire personnel and are referring all questions to them.
A Walmart spokesperson said Wednesday night that because associates evacuated immediately, personal belongings like wallets and keys were left behind. Some needed assistance with accommodations, which Walmart is working to provide.
The company will also pay all employees for 40 hours through the remained of the week. Walmart will assess next steps and what to do as far as temporary reassignments at neighboring stores or clubs for associates.
The Walmart spokesperson also emphasized how grateful they were for the efforts of first responders at getting everyone out of the facility safely.
Avon Community School Corporation posted the following on their Facebook:
We are thankful for the incredible men and women of Washington Township / Avon Fire Department and other local departments who are battling this afternoon’s fire. We have contacted parents/caregivers of students whose afternoon bus routes are affected. Everyone, please be safe and patient as you travel in and through Avon this afternoon and evening. It’s at times like these when we’re especially grateful for such a strong and supportive community.