Wood County Commission hold special meeting to discuss fire

Photo by Brett Dunlap The Wood County Commission held an emergency meeting Sunday evening with emergency officials to discuss the fire situation at the former Ames plant in south Parkersburg.

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Commission held a special emergency meeting Sunday evening to discuss the weekend fire situation and its growing costs.

Commission President Blair Couch addressed a room of officials from local, state and other agencies and businesses who have had a hand in dealing with the fire at the old Ames plant since it began early Saturday morning in south Parkersburg.

In just 48 hours, the county’s expenses on this emergency have climbed to over $200,000 with around $60,000 a day estimated going forward, Couch said. Some estimates said another $300,000 would be needed to put it out. Resources have included equipment, fire suppressing foam, excavators, lights and more.

“Future action is going to require expenditures and decisions need to be made about how we are going to handle it moving forward,” Couch said. “We have expended a lot of money so far.”

The commission is not sure money would be available from the state or federal government to keep up operations. Representatives from the West Virginia Governor’s office and from Rep. David McKinley’s office were at Sunday’s meeting. West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy was also present.

“For a county to handle a major industrial fire which we are handling right now, it is not fiscally responsible for us,” Couch said.

What funds the county has available to it right now, will be used up quickly, he said. The county is also going to look towards the property owner to provide some reimbursement through their insurance coverage.

“We don’t know what that will be at this point,” Couch said.

Individuals representing the owner of the property, IEI Plastics, said they were trying to get resources available to help. They have been here a long time and want to keep their reputation with the community intact and do what they can to help being their number-one priority, they said.

Commissioner Jimmy Colombo talked about air quality concerns and how people are continually smelling something from the site.

“That alarms mothers with their children and alarms people with any kind of lung problems,” he said. “We might say the air quality is good, but they won’t believe us, because they smell something.

“The only way we are going to eliminate that is to put the fire out. That has to be done.”

Officials estimated in the best of conditions, it would take well over a week to get the fire completely out. However, there are still a lot of uncertainties regarding this fire that some officials believe could prolong the situation for some time.

Officials talked about crews trying to pull back debris and having the fire reignite.

“The fire is underneath the roof panels,” said Drew McCarty of SPSI, a company that specializes in fighting industrial fires. “You have to work the footprint of the property.

“A lot of good work has already been done, but my estimate is this is going to go on for days.”

The environmental consequences of this fire lingering will fall on the property owner, Couch said.

“We have done everything in our power … to fight this fire and we have reached our limit,” he said. “Now as this fire continues and people are exposed to this over time, the lawsuits will come.

“They will come at other people because we have done our due diligence and we have done all we can. We would like to do more.”

Couch hoped some state and federal money could be available to keep up efforts. Pulling back and letting it burn itself out would not be the right thing to do, he said.

“We are talking $60,000 a day and the (property owner’s) insurance may not reimburse you,” Couch said. “We have tried our very best for 48 hours to knock this … down and we are not getting it done.”

Couch did commend the work of all the 31 fire departments who responded as well as the highways department and others.

“It was amazing to watch the cooperation and the professionalism,” he said.

Couch said there has to be a plan going forward on this.

“I am begging the governor’s office and the congressman’s office and the state offices around us to have some sort agreement to have funding to help us,” he said.

The commission will reconvene this morning at 9:30 a.m. during its regularly scheduled meeting to talk with officials further about the fire situation.