As recycling company smolders, DEEP finds no contamination in ne - WFSB 3 Connecticut

As recycling company smolders, DEEP finds no contamination in nearby river

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The fire continued to smolder on Thursday morning. (WFSB photo) The fire continued to smolder on Thursday morning. (WFSB photo)
DEEP sampled the water and air following the fire. (WFSB photo) DEEP sampled the water and air following the fire. (WFSB photo)
(WFSB photo) (WFSB photo)

An army of volunteer firefighters continue to battle a stubborn fire at a recycling center in Essex that still smoldered on Thursday.

Crews have been on the scene since Wednesday afternoon to make sure flames to flare up again at the Calamari Recycling Company on Dump Road, right off of Route 154.

The fire has burned nearly 500 tons of demolition material and has been burning now for more than 24 hours.

"When its in the pile its hard for us to get to the spots because they could be buried under the debris," Essex Fire Lt. Aron Schumacher said.

Officials said that the Essex town transfer station and Dump Road remain closed on Thursday afternoon.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection conducted water and air quality tests with special equipment on Thursday. It said prevailing winds were carrying smoke into populated areas of the town. Overnight, the winds had carried the smoke out over the river.

"It's a very unfortunate event, thankfully there is no harm to life," Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman said. 

DEEP said its samples showed no contamination.

"The environmental concerns as far as waterways goes is very minimal," Jeff Chandler with Connecticut DEEP Emergency Response said.

The owner of the company told Eyewitness News that he was there when it started and his employees tried to put it out as quickly as possible. However, they had to call the fire department because it spread too fast.

"They heard a spark, something like a shock, and they turned around and saw a baler was on fire, there was cardboard in it," said Joel Nucci, Calamari Recycling president. "[The] cardboard caught on fire, [the] baler caught on fire and it just continued to spread from there."

Nucci said a baler is a piece of machinery that compacts cardboard.

"This is something that just couldn't be prevented, it was a fluke thing to have something like that happen," he said. "I've seen it happen [at] other places, never thought it would happen here, but thought wrong."

Neighbors said that when the fire started, plumes of smoke could be seen from miles away.

"It is crazy," Dan Muravic, of Essex, said. "I heard it was still going on. I'm sure it's going to be that way all day."

Firefighters said the building was full of wood, cardboard and other recyclable materials.

"At this point, it's construction debris," Chandler said. "A combination of wood, plastics and things like that that come off construction sites that are brought into this building and later sorted."

Employees believe it was sparked by an electrical issue.

The only problem is getting an adequate water supply to the site located right off Route 154 on the Deep River town line. According to fire officials, nearly 15 tanker trucks showed up to put out the flames.

"Right now, it's just a matter of cleaning out the rest of the building, wetting it down to try to reduce our smoke issues and our runoff as much as we possibly can," Deputy Fire Coordinator for Middlesex County Rick Swan said. 

As crews from dozens of Middlesex County towns worked long into the night and sprayed millions of gallons of water on the fire. 

"You can see the large debris pile behind me," Schumacher said. "We're still working on sifting through that debris with large machinery to apply the water to the remaining hot spots."

Regardless of the size of the fire, no one was hurt.

"The good thing is nobody got hurt.  Buildings could be rebuilt.  Just have to solve the problem now," Nucci said. 

Eyewitness News learned that 28 employees work at the building. Many of them had to leave their vehicles when the flames broke out. They will be able to remain on the job.

The company has been at the location for 18 years. The building where the fire started was about five years old, according to Nucci.

He said he was hoping the steel building can be saved. He's going to have a structural engineer come in on Friday and take a look.

The company does have other buildings they can use to take in materials. Nucci said those will open when crews clear the scene.

Connecticut Water Company customers are expected to be impacted by the fire. While crews continue to knock down hot spots, customers could see "water pressure fluctuations and occasional discolored water." 

Firefighters said it appeared as of Thursday morning that the building and everything inside was destroyed.

The exact cause remains under investigation.

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