INDIANAPOLIS — Debris from a large fire at a Walmart distribution center in Plainfield is falling across central Indiana, but you should resist the temptation to pick it up.
According to Deputy Fire Chief Michael Pruitt with the Bargersville Fire Department, photos of people holding the material are popping up all over social media.
“These materials can be very toxic,” Pruitt said on Twitter. “Do not handle these materials.”
According to Pruitt, the debris can contain toxic carcinogens.
“We know what’s in a Walmart. We have everything from home chemicals to plastics,” said Pruitt. “I mean you name it – everything is in there. So now you’re talking about a warehouse and a warehouse has all those things and now all those things are mixing together and burning together and they’re creating toxins.”
Pruitt said the unknown risk is the very reason firefighters wear protective gear and respiratory protection.
“We wear fire gear not only to protect us from the heat but also to protect us from those elements,” said Pruitt. “Then it’s very important that we have to decontaminate ourselves, because historically we know that firefighters going into environments like this have run into issues where we can get cancer.”
The Indiana Department of Homeland Security also weighed in.
“If you live close enough to this facility that you see debris falling, you need to shelter in place and wait for further news,” the department said on Twitter. “It is important to avoid the area so first responders have unimpeded access to combat the fire.”
Emergency Response staff with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, or IDEM, arrived on the scene as debris continued to rain down. Officials with Plainfield Fire said IDEM is tasked with bringing in the necessary equipment to test the surrounding air quality.
IDEM declined our request for an interview, but provided a link to resources from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Officials are still assessing the cause of the fire. There are an estimated 180 to 200 firefighters responding to the incident.