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Health, Science & Environment

Richmond residents head home: Clean up continues, schools still closed

Aerial photo of several city blocks of blackened, charred remains of a warehouse, surrounded by several other city blocks with trees and buildings.
Kevin Shook
Global Media Enterprise
The charred, blackened remains of the recycling plant in Richmond, Indiana, on Saturday, April 15, that burned for multiple days in a massive fire.

Thousands of displaced people by a massive recycling plant fire can return to their homes as officials in Richmond, Indiana, lifted evacuation orders Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m..

Officials said they lifted the evacuation order after favorable weather conditions cleansed the air, and testingshowed undetectable or small amounts of the chemicals and materials they're monitoring for.

Even with the fires 99% contained, crews remain on scene to monitor for flare ups. And U.S. EPA personnel are working to clean up asbestos-containing debris that has fallen in people's yards, and on businesses and roofs.

Richmond Community Schools will remain closed on Monday while contractors use air scrubbers to clean inside of the buildings.

"We feel it is in our best interest to err on the side of caution as we want to insure our buildings are safe for our students and staff," the district said in an information sheet.

The city of Richmond is providing residents that are returning to the evacuation zone with free cleaning kits.

"If your house did fill with smoke during the fire, we have instructions on how to properly and safely clean the inside of your home," said Christine Stinson with the Wayne County, Indiana, health department. "One of the first steps that you take is to air your home out."

The EPA is asking people who live near the factory to not light bonfires at their homes as it might interfere with air monitoring readings.

Emergency management has multiple phases, said Matthew Cain from the Wayne County Emergency Management Agency.

"We will be transitioning more from a response mode to that of recovery in order to get to the community, get the community back to some sort of normalcy," Cain said.

People can sign up for debris removal in English here and in Spanish here.

Here's a link to the cleaning guide.

Health, Science & Environment Ohio Newsrichmond
Chris Welter is the Managing Editor at The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Chris got his start in radio in 2017 when he completed a six-month training at the Center for Community Voices. Most recently, he worked as a substitute host and the Environment Reporter at WYSO.