The Journal Gazette
 
 
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 4:18 am

200 homes evacuated after fire hits factory

Chris Meyers|The Journal Gazette

COLUMBIA CITY -- It was the middle of the night and someone was banging on Todd and Carla Parker's door.


An evacuation was in progress, prompted by a fire at the factory across the street where a chemical fire two years ago prompted another evacuation.


Much like then, emergency workers early Saturday in Columbia City started the evacuation of nearby homes.


"They pounded on the door about midnight," Todd Parker said Saturday afternoon as he and Carla worked in their garden.


The evacuation notice was a precaution in case any of the chemicals at C&R Plating Corp. were involved in the fire.


"There was, of course, a fear because that was what had happened previously," Columbia City Mayor Ryan Daniel said Saturday morning.


Firefighters from Columbia City's fire department and Columbia, Thorncreek Township and Churubusco discovered the fire was only structural as they worked to combat the blaze. No chemicals were affected.


Until that time, though, about 200 homes in the area of the fire at 302 Factory Ave. were evacuated, Daniel said. The evacuation affected the southwest area of the city but was cancelled by 4:30 a.m.


"Until we really had a good grasp of what the issue was, we had to take the precautions we did," he said, adding a dryer box for mechanical parts at the facility was the likely cause.


Firefighters were called at 11:25 p.m. Friday. The fire was under control about two hours later, the mayor said.


The Parkers decided not to evacuate, but others around them did.


One resident, who lives a couple of blocks north of the fire and did not wish to be identified, left with her family and stayed overnight at a local hotel.


Her family was unaware of alerts through social media by the Whitley County Emergency Management Agency, which directed evacuees to the First Church of God about two miles northwest of C&R Plating.


"We didn't know where we were supposed to go, so we begged the hotel to let us take the dogs," she said of efforts to ensure their two Labradors were safe.


It wasn't until after the fact that they learned of the evacuation location. They wonder how or if they can get reimbursement for their hotel stay.


They also would've been able to take their dogs with them to the church because the Humane Society of Whitley County brought kennels.


Aside from needing to know a location to go, not everyone heard the evacuation attempts, either. Without an interactive emergency phone calling system in place in Whitley County, officials had to rely on door-to-door methods.


In light of some comments on the Whitley County EMA's Facebook page about not hearing the knocks on the door, the agency recommended residents sign up for the free text message or email alerts the agency sends through a system called Nixle.


Residents can sign up for at www.nixle.com or send a text message to 888777 with the local zip code as the message.


A chemical fire at C&R Plating in July 2013 also prompted brief evacuation and shelter-in-place orders, depending on where people lived.


The company performs nickel, zinc and other alloy finishing services for mechanical and automotive parts.


The fire most heavily burned the middle section of the building, with melted siding visible on the outside, as well as other damage.


"When they arrived, they found heavy smoke and flames coming from the building," Daniel said.


He said company officials are planning on repairing the building and getting operations started again.


The business was fairly quiet by mid-day Saturday, with only a handful of cars in the parking lot.


As the Parkers worked outside, the smell of burned plastic and metal lingered briefly when the breeze would subside, much like it did throughout the night.


"We'd get a whiff of it and then it would blow away," Todd said.


cmeyers@jg.net

    

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