LACKAWANNA, N.Y.-- After spending most of the day and evening battling a massive fire at the former Bethlehem Steel site, Lackawanna Fire Department officials said Wednesday around 8:40 p.m. the fire was finally contained, but not out.
The fire was reported around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at the property off of Route 5 in Lackawanna.
Our crews at the scene said they heard several explosions coming from the building early Wednesday.
Route 5 between Ridge Road and Lake Avenue in Lackawanna remains closed in both directions. Police say it will remain closed through rush hour traffic Thursday morning.
Authorities say there is a shelter in place from Lackawanna to Athol Springs, and includes residents in Hamburg and Lake Shore. Smoke is possibly moving towards Orchard Park as well, according to Greg Butcher from Erie County Emergency Services.
Officials say there are no chemicals burning, but various plastics, wood are fueling the fire. They say they are not 100%, but wouldn't be surprised if there was some asbestos in the building considering it is a 50+ year old industrial building.
Drone footage taken by viewer Glenn McLaughlin shows damage to the building is extensive.
Nearby schools had to make alternate plans because of the smoke from the fire.
Frontier Central is moving students to other school districts. This is the statement posted on their website:
Update to the evacuation of Frontier High School, Middle School, Big Tree, Cloverbank and Blasdell elementary schools. The changing weather dynamic has caused an adjustment to our evacuation plans. We are relocating students to various local school districts with their teachers. More information will be shared as soon as possible.
Hamburg Central Schools has issued a 'shelter in place' due to the fire. They released this statement on their website:
The Hamburg Central School District is aware of this morning’s fire at a Lackawanna site. Authorities are monitoring air quality in the area and providing guidance to school officials. At this time, there is no air quality risk posed to those in the district. As a precaution, a shelter in place is now in effect in all our schools. This suspends all outdoor activity, however indoor teaching activities will continue as usual. We will update you if this situation changes.
All after-school and evening activities in the HCSD are cancelled today due to the Lackawanna fire situation. However, Section VI has determined that the Hamburg volleyball game at Lackawanna High School will go on as scheduled.
City of Lackawanna Development Director Fred Heinle says 60-70% of the building was being used for storage. While no official cause of fire has been released, Heinle says Lackawanna Police say an employee in the building was changing hot light bulbs when one dropped on cardboard and started on fire.
One firefighter suffered a minor knee injury, and is expected to be OK.
Many who live around the former steel mill and especially in the Town of Hamburg found large charred debris blown in the wind from the fire in yards.
The Town of Hamburg Emergency Services said while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not believe there is anything hazardous about the debris, it also recommends avoiding handling the debris with bare hands and limiting exposure.
The Town of Hamburg Emergency Services recommends sending them a photo of the debris via Facebook so they can know how to address it.
Great Lakes Industrial Development, which owns the Steel Works Industrial Park located on the site, issued the following statement:
“First and foremost, we are extremely grateful that all employees at the site are safe, and for the tremendous response of the firefighters who continue to battle the fire,” said Chris Wietig, Great Lakes Industrial Development. “Our immediate thoughts and focus are on the safety of everyone at and surrounding the site, as well as with the tenants whose businesses will be impacted by this devastating event. While we do not yet know the full extent of the damage, it is certain that some tenants and workers will be displaced as a result of the fire.”
The fire is known to have damaged space occupied by Industrial Materials Recycling (IMR), a post-industrial plastics recycler, which grinds discarded plastic products into granular plastic that is sold to manufacturers where the material is recycled into the manufacturing process. IMR has been in business since 2012, and has over 15 employees in production at the site. IMR and Steel Works Industrial Park have a number of environmental requirements that they have routinely stayed in compliance with, including strict oversight from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
According to Great Lakes Industrial Development, the fire was noticed at approximately 7 a.m., shortly after IMR held its daily safety inspection and walk-through and staff meeting, prior to commencing the day’s operations. Emergency crews were immediately notified and IMR staff and other tenants were evacuated. Other tenants at the facility include a mix of light manufacturing, logistics, storage and steel supply businesses.
Despite various media reports to the contrary, there have not been previous fires (reported or unreported) at the facility, nor is the fire believed to have started in an adjacent storage facility. Great Lakes does not know the source or cause of the fire, but will cooperate with all responding entities while continuing its own investigation.