PLAINFIELD, Ind. — Two days after a massive fire broke out at a Walmart distribution center, firefighters are starting to transition from fighting the fire to figuring out how it started.
On Friday afternoon, officials from the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Indiana Department of Environmental Protection (IDEM) joined Plainfield fire and police officials to provide an update on the ongoing investigation into the fire. During the news conference, they discussed the status of the case, the investigation into the fire’s origin and concerns from members of the public.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far about the fire.
Where and when did this happen?
The fire started around 12 p.m. Wednesday at the Walmart distribution center located at 9590 Allpoints Parkway. Smoke from the large fire was visible from several miles away. Neighboring facilities were evacuated as a precaution and nearby residents were urged to shelter in place.
The warehouse spans about 1.2 million square feet. Smoke even showed up on weather radar!
How did it start?
With the fire now under control, investigators are at the point where they can get into the facility. However, we won’t know the cause of the fire for days, or even weeks. A specialized team from the ATF is now involved in that investigation.
The ATF’s National Response Team responds to large fires, explosions and bombings to identify their cause and origin. This team typically works as a part of a multi-agency team to reconstruct the scene, identify the origin of the fire, and determine its cause.
Plainfield Fire Chief Brent Anderson said it appeared the fire was first spotted on the third floor of the warehouse, but the investigation will determine more specifics on its origin and cause.
What was inside the distribution center?
The warehouse contained a variety of items set for distribution, including clothing, food, electronics and a lot of shipping materials.
“If you can think of it, it’s probably in there,” Anderson said of the facility and its contents.
However, during Friday’s update, they said they do not believe there was any hazardous materials inside the building, but an investigation is ongoing.
How big was the firefighting effort?
At the fire’s height, nearly 200 firefighters were involved in the effort to put it out.
Firefighters encountered raging fire and thick smoke with zero visibility. Crews fought the fire for about 30 minutes inside the warehouse before switching to a defensive operation.
“Every one of those departments that responded all came in with the same goal in mind of assisting Plainfield and trying to get this fire under control,” said Capt. Eric Banister, public information officer at the Wayne Township Fire Department.
To be specific, 30 agencies responded to assist the Plainfield Fire Department in the efforts. The crews worked in 4-6 hour shifts each to stay fresh while fighting the blaze.
Was anyone hurt?
According to Anderson and Walmart officials, the warehouse’s approximately 1,000 employees were inside the building when the fire broke out. All of them were able to escape and are accounted for.
Departments responding to the scene credited the quick actions and preparedness of Walmart employees and management for getting everyone to safety.
“While this might be an event that costs lots of many dollars, a heart a large dollar loss and property loss, I think the one positive takeaway is, as I said earlier, no serious injuries, no loss of life,” said Anderson. “That’s what we should focus on, that all the systems worked from the 911 calls to the fire protection systems to the emergency response and all the way to where we are today. That the response has been enormous and outstanding.”
What happened to the employees?
Plainfield school buses transported the workers to a reunification site on Smith Road. Many employees left their phones behind during the evacuation and couldn’t contact their loved ones.
A Walmart spokesperson said all affected workers will be paid for 40 hours this week, plus any overtime, as the facility remains closed. The company said it would assist with lodging and transportation for employees who needed it.
Some employees were able to retrieve their vehicles, but there are some others that cannot be retrieved at this time.
What’s happening at the scene now?
The scene remains active, with some road closures still in place. The Plainfield Police Department secured the scene. Road closures remain in place, including 100 South between Ronald Reagan and Smith Road. All Points Parkway could also be closed at certain times as equipment is moved.
What about all the debris?
There are some lingering concerns with smoke from the fire. The EPA is monitoring air quality and working with the state and local health departments to address health and environmental impacts from the fire.
Officials urged residents to avoid touching the debris because it could potentially be toxic. They said it was best to err on the side of caution.
For Hendricks County residents concerned about health impacts from the smoke, they can call a dedicated phone line at 317-718-6052. People in other counties should contact their local health department.