Lingering fires erupt at recycling center

WARREN TWP. – A fog-like smoke enveloped Ohio 7 at Moore’s Junction, and fires continued to burn Monday in the rubble and refuse of a Warren Township recycling facility that burned to the ground when a Sunday morning fire quickly grew out of control.

Several hot spots sprouted small flames Monday in the piles of plastics, cardboard and metals that were stored at Level 5 Recycling Solutions (formerly GreenLeaf Recycling), on Ohio 7 at the site of the former ReBay Recycling, a property owned by Marietta Industrial Enterprises (MIE).

The fire resulted in a nearly 12-hour closure of the state highway between Marietta and Belpre and destroyed MIE’s main office building and two buildings that housed the recycling outfit, which separates, bails and sells recycled material from waste companies and communities.

The fire apparently started in recyclable materials piled outside of the buildings, said Michael Moore, president of Level 5 Recycling Solutions.

“Something was ignited in some way outside of the building,” he said.

“I believe we had two people (working) on Sunday moving material. We weren’t operating any of the equipment, and we have no idea what ignited any of the material,” he said.

Level 5, which has operated locally since April 1, 2013, has been more backed up with material lately after a recent remodel caused it to temporarily halt processing of materials, said Moore. Still, having material stored outside the building is not unusual or against any rules, he said.

It was an employee working at an adjacent MIE facility that reported the fire, said MIE president Scott Elliott.

“Apparently their employees had been taking a break and were outside approximately where the fire started and went back in. One of my employees came in and saw the fire and went over and alerted the GreenLeaf people and called 911,” said Elliott.

All Level 5 employees are trained in the use of a fire extinguisher, and an employee had attempted to extinguish the blaze before determining it was too large, said Moore.

The cause of the fire is still undetermined and under investigation, according to Lindsey Burnworth, spokeswoman for the Division of State Fire Marshal. An investigator was on scene Monday, she said.

Nearby residents Dave and Mary Padgitt watched the smoldering building from their front porch Monday morning. The Padgitts were evacuated Sunday while the Washington County Sheriff’s Office confirmed there were no hazardous materials burning.

The Padgitts’ daughter, who drove by on Ohio 7, called and told her parents she thought the facility was on fire before the Padgitts could see it from their porch approximately 75 yards behind the facility, said Dave.

“I said, ‘I don’t see anything.’ Mary jumped in the truck and sure enough they had a small fire,” he said.

The fire appeared to take off quickly. There seemed to be a couple of small explosions, which were possibly related to vehicles that burned on the property, said Dave Padgitt.

Before being evacuated the heat forced the Padgitts to retreat behind their home.

“It got so hot here, we got in the truck and got back up away from the smoke,” said Dave.

The Padgitts were allowed back in their home a couple hours after being evacuated, when the EPA determined there was no hazard, said Mary.

“We were very lucky people because of the way the wind was blowing,” she said.

The Warren Volunteer Fire Department cleared the scene at 10 a.m. Monday, after an almost 24-hour continual presence at the scene, said Warren chief and incident commander Mark Wile.

“We had the machinery in there this morning. We were moving some of the places where the fire was and hosing it down. It’s just an overwhelming effort,” he said.

In talking with the property owner, Wile determined the best course of action would be to allow the fire to burn itself out.

Such a process could take a week or more, he said.

The facility is Level 5’s solitary facility, said Moore. It employed 20 to 25 full-time employees that will now be laid off while the company attempts to determine what comes next.

“We are already talking about what we do next and how do we rebuild. There’s a real need for this type of processing facility in this type of the state,” said Moore.