Fire at Reno scrap yard

Calls for help bring responses from around the Valley

Under the direction of Reno Fire Chief Dan Ritchey, firefighters from across the Mid-Ohio Valley eliminated a five-story tall blaze Thursday after five hours.

The flames engulfed several large piles of scrapped cars and trucks at Guernsey Scrap and Recycling, 28087 State Route 7.

The Ohio EPA was on site by 6:30 p.m. to investigate concerns over air quality and runoff of foam into the Ohio River.

“We put out the rescue boat in the river and took the EPA guy out to take samples,” noted Ritchey.

Trevor Irwin, on-scene coordinator for the office of environmental response also worked under the direction of Ritchey to build dikes to stop further runoff.

“We called in tankers from across Washington County and Wood County, really the whole Valley has stepped up,” said Ritchey, who was the incident commander for the fire. “And the (Washington County) Sheriff’s Office and Ohio State Highway Patrol controlled traffic to clear Route 7 to get the trucks through.”

He said the U.S. Coast Guard was also notified of the fire because of the potential runoff into the river.

Pumpers, tankers, foam trailers, trailers with buckets, an aerial tower, a rehab trailer for vitals and a drone to monitor hot spots were all assembled to fight the flames.

The call of the fire went out at 4 p.m. and by 7 p.m. the flames were under control, though water continued to pour past 8 p.m. as lights were brought in for the long night of monitoring ahead.

“There are things exploding inside the piles and we don’t know why,” Ritchey said in the midst of the tall blaze just after 5 p.m.

The cause, said the fire chief, may be related to drugs.

“We talked with one of the workers, they said they were separating cars,” explained Ritchey. “They’re not supposed to have gas tanks and this guy had picked a car up and looked and there was no gas tank on it. But when he drops it, it explodes. Something went off in there. There had to be something in it to cause that explosion.”

Ritchey said his speculation is a mobile methamphetamine lab may have caused the explosion.

“They may have brought that car in to get rid of their waste,” he said. “They know who brought the car in so I’m going to have the sheriff’s office check the history on the person. It shook houses a half mile away when it went off. And when it exploded, fire just went everywhere.”

But that wasn’t the only explosion of the evening.

For the first three hours of the blaze, loud pops and bangs were the sound of more explosions coming out of the junk piles.

“It’s a miracle no one got hurt, it was sending metal flying out,” said Ritchey. “We had two operations fighting from different sides and we had both water and foam. The water rolls off the top of the cars, but foam smothers the fire.”

Throughout the entire response, a grappler was used to pull smoldering and sometimes enflamed scraps off the burning pile as a separate hose kept the claw cooled amidst sparks and embers.

Even the tankers that were closer to the blaze needed to be cooled off periodically.

“That happens with large fires, as the wind shifts it takes heat with it and so you need to create a wet blanket over your trucks,” said Ritchey after the flames were controlled.

Marietta’s aerial tower was placed in two different locations to pour water from above over the smoldering pile. Its second location closer to the pile had two streams running down.

“We initially had it operating down here beneath the fire but then moved it up beside,” explained Ritchey.

At the height of the blaze eight streams of foam and water attacked the piles from different angles, keeping fire from reaching the trees behind the scrap yard, or other piles of scrap not hit with the blaze.

Gary O’Brien, of O’Brien’s Safety Services, also was on scene, helping Ritchey to coordinate and call in extra manpower from both sides of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers.

“We got not only the volunteer departments out here but also Solvay Advance Polymers supplied foam and a pumper,” said O’Brien. “This is all one big team here.”

That teamwork Ritchey couldn’t praise enough, noting not only the estimated 18 fire departments that responded but also the aid of law enforcement to clear paths on the highway for trucks to not only refill at surrounding fire hydrants, but also return to the scene efficiently.

“The fire chiefs in Washington respect the chain of command, but also know to just do something if they see it needs to be done,” he said. “There are too many people to thank and I don’t want to leave any out.”

Departments that had a presence at the fire include: Reno, Marietta, Williamstown, Fearing, Vienna, Warren, Waverly, Newport, Beverly, Lowell, Salem, Blennerhassett, St. Marys, Finley, Little Muskingum, Barlow, East Wood, Oak Grove and the Franklin Fire Equipment Company.

Ritchey said in the coming days he will work with the state fire marshal, the sheriff’s office and the owner of the scrap yard to ensure each fire department is repaid through insurance for the foam they brought.

“It’s a chemical-based foam, it’s not just water and soap,” he explained. “And the owner was good about that, and we’ll look into who brought the car that exploded.”

Smitty’s donated food and water to the firefighters.

The property owner’s name wasn’t available Thursday evening.

At a glance

≤ Mid-Ohio Valley firefighters responded to five-story flames at the Guernsey Scrap and Recycling yard Thursday after a scrap car exploded.

≤ Reno Fire Chief Dan Ritchey was the site commander for the incident.

≤ The flames were under control in four hours and mostly out in five.

≤ The cause of the fire will remain under investigation by Reno Fire and the state fire marshall.

Source: Dan Ritchey.

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