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10,000 Flee Plastic Fire Fumes in Iowa

July 16, 1985|Associated Press

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Up to 10,000 people were evacuated after a dense cloud of choking, acidic smoke from a smoldering plastics fire spread over the southern part of the city, but evacuations were halted by midday as the smoke began to dissipate.

The fumes apparently were created when firefighters sprayed water on a burning plastic dome and plastic filters at an old sewage treatment plant, which is being demolished, shortly after the fire began about 2:30 p.m. Monday, authorities said.

The smoke from the burning polyvinyl chloride plastic contained hydrochloric acid, officials said.

Susan Neely, an aide to Gov. Terry Branstad, estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 people had been evacuated, and police Capt. Howard Gardner estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 people had fled their homes.

The evacuation area extended about five miles south of the fire, Police Capt. Ron Hansen said.

Wind Pushed Smoke

During the morning, light wind pushed the smoke cloud back to the north and over the city, and Neely said more residents of the city of 110,000 might have to be evacuated.

Shortly before noon, however, police reported that the smoke was dissipating and no further evacuations were scheduled. "The situation seems to be getting under control," Neely said.

Branstad toured the area earlier today and said he got a headache after being there just a few minutes. He said he would sign a disaster declaration to help with cleanup and further evacuation, if necessary, and was "ready and willing" to call in the National Guard if needed.

"I just came from the (fire) scene and they are really working hard over there," Branstad said, adding that workers were using sand and water to try to put out the smoldering fire.

Hansen said the area burning at the old plant "is like a big dish or a big saucer" covered with a plastic dome.

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