PARKERSBURG - Eight area fire departments and more than 70 firefighters responded Friday to the former Ames plant, where a fire engulfed a section of the building.
The north side of the Polymer Alliance Service building, in the 3300 block of Old Camden Avenue, caught fire around 5 p.m. Friday. About 10 percent of the large building was affected by fire, but the rest sustained heavy smoke damage, said Sgt. Greg Collins, public information officer with the Parkersburg Police Department.
The building serves as a plastics storage facility.
Flames are visible at the former Ames plant on Old Camden Avenue, where a fire erupted Friday evening. (Photo by Kerry Patrick)
"The building is full of plastic material," he said.
Eight fire departments responded to the scene, located just outside the Parkersburg city limits. Lubeck Volunteer Fire Department was the lead agency, while Blennerhassett, Parkersburg, Mineral Wells, Vienna, Waverly, Washington Bottom and Little Hocking fire departments provided backup.
Several departments were on standby, including Belpre, Marietta and Eastwood volunteer fire departments.
Only essential firefighters and equipment were called to the scene so the county would still have adequate fire coverage in case of another emergency, he said.
"This was a huge operation," said Collins. "We had 74 firefighters here working hard on a section of this massive building. They were fighting it hard for more than two hours."
Major concerns for firefighting crews were possible roof collapses, intense smoke from the burning plastic material, and firefighter fatigue, said Collins.
"The building is quite large. It's a long building, and some areas have up to three and a half stories," he said.
No injuries were reported.
The cause was not determined Friday night. Collins said it could be a while before the cause is known.
"Getting this fire out and under control was phase one. Figuring out what caused the fire is phase two," he said.
The West Virginia state fire marshal was called to investigate Friday night.
While the blaze was under control at 7:30 p.m., firefighters remained on the scene late Friday night to monitor the building and mop up hot spots. At 10 p.m., crews were still putting out small pockets of fire.
A command center was set up in the rear of the building, with the Wood County Mobile Command Unit, about a half dozen ambulances, a fire rehab unit and numerous fire trucks.
Parkersburg Fire Chief Eric Taylor said crews from Empire Builders, a nearby demolition contracting company, helped firefighters gain access to hard-to-reach areas of the plant using the company's equipment.
Taylor said plastics are derivative of petrochemicals, and exhibit similar fire characteristics as petroleum fires.
"They (plastics) will contribute to high fire temperatures, large volumes of thick smoke and they will burn very quickly," said Taylor.
Steven Mohwish lives across the street from the former Ames shovel plant. He said he heard pops and crackles and then saw smoking billowing from the end of the building.
The white smoke from the fire was visible from Seventh Street.
Lyle Dowler, who recently retired from the Parkersburg Fire Department, was watching the fire along Old Camden Avenue Friday evening.
Dowler was worried for the safety of the firefighters battling the fire.
"The flames near the powerlines are real dangerous," Dowler said.
And the firefighters had to contend with the extreme heat, he said.
"The metal roof holds the heat," Dowler said around 5 p.m. "It looks like it is spreading."
Plastics fires are difficult to extinguish, Dowler said.
Dowler, a retired captain, said the smoke seemed to be venting out of the building's gables. The white smoke meant the flames were being hit by water, while the black smoke meant the plastics were burning, he said.