IEI fire cause unknown

W.Va. officials present final report on incident

Warren Township Fire Chief Mark Wile, representing the Washington County Fire Chiefs Association, speaks during Thursday’s event at the IEI fire scene on Camden Avenue in Parkersburg. Multiple departments from Washington County were among the 39 who responded to the 2017 fire, which burned for 10 days. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

PARKERSBURG — State officials offered a “final” report on last year’s fire at the Intercontinental Export-Import Plastics warehouse on Camden Avenue Thursday, but a big question remains unanswered after 10 months.

“As of right now, the fire is undetermined in cause and will stay that way,” Deputy State Fire Marshal Jason Baltic said at the fire scene. “If and when any information or any leads would develop, then we’ll work on those leads as they come in.”

Baltic was one of several state officials, including Gov. Jim Justice, on hand Thursday to deliver the report, thank those who battled the blaze that burned for 10 days and present the keys to a hazardous materials Rapid Response Vehicle to the Wood County Commission. Baltic said the extent of the damage at the scene was the main factor preventing investigators from determining what started the fire, or even whether it was an accident or intentionally set.

“We’re still continuing the investigation. I worked on an interview two weeks ago concerning this fire,” Baltic said.

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has maintained contact with IEI and its consultant throughout the cleanup process, including weekly site visits, said Rusty Joins, with the DEP. Nearly 16,000 tons of solid waste, including 2,122 tons of metal, has been removed from the site, he said.

Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham, right, speaks during Thursday’s event at the IEI fire scene on Camden Avenue in Parkersburg. Multiple departments from Washington County were among the 39 who responded to the 2017 fire, which burned for 10 days. Also pictured are, from left, West Virginia Delegate John Kelly, Wood County Commissioner Blair Couch and Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Communications Director Lawrence Messina. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)

“It is estimated that the cleanup will be complete on or around Sept. 17,” Joins said.

West Virginia Fire Marshal Ken Tyree recognized each of the 39 fire departments that helped battle the fire, including units from Wood, Wirt, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Kanawha and Washington counties.

“It was an amazing task to fight this fire for 10 days and not have one single injury or fatality,” said Lubeck Volunteer Fire Chief Mark Stewart, who was incident commander for the fire, which happened at the former Ames plant just outside city limits.

Representing the Washington County Fire Chiefs Association, Warren Township Fire Chief Mark Wile said he knows they can count on their counterparts in Wood County to help them in a similar situation.

“Practically every department in Washington County didn’t hesitate to come over and help our brothers and sisters,” he said.

State officials presented the Parkersburg Police Department with a certificate of appreciation for its assistance in traffic control and other support during the firefighting effort.

Multiple officials thanked Justice for providing more than $1.4 million from the governor’s contingency fund to reimburse local officials for the costs of fighting the fire, including the hiring of Specialized Professional Services Inc., a Pennsylvania contractor that handles industrial fires.

Justice said with questions over the contents of the warehouse and what was being carried into the air by the massive plume of black smoke, there wasn’t any time to waste on addressing the fire and providing the resources to do so. The governor said he was honored to be in the position to make a decision to help the citizens of Wood County.

“The decision didn’t put the fire out,” Justice said. “You guys … all of your efforts together are what should be honored.”

The situation prompted state and local officials to consider how to handle such situations in the future, Lawrence Messina, director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said. That led to an agreement between the state and county to place a 45-foot Regional Response Vehicle here.

“Its primary focus is to be able to respond to a hazardous materials” event, said Jimmy Gianato, West Virginia director of Homeland Security.

The vehicle includes decontamination equipment, air bottles, a system to refill air bottles and much more. It was previously located in the Nitro area, and while it was paid for with Homeland Security dollars and provided by the state, it will be operated by local crews.

Gianato said the vehicle is intended to be used around the region and is required to respond anywhere it’s needed in the state.

The response vehicle will be stored at Parkersburg Fire Station No. 6 on Camden Avenue, Parkersburg Fire Chief Jason Matthews said. A reserve pumper truck will be moved to make room for it.