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Accounts conflict over the cause of a fire that forced a partial evacuation of Piper City, Ind., on Thursday, Sept. 12.
Precision Soya, the soybean plant where the fire took place, reportedly uses the chemical aluminum phosphide that, when mixed with water, forms a toxic gas. Initial reports suggested a leak in the plants roof caused an explosive chemical reaction when a rainstorm swept through the area that night.
Piper City Fire Chief Tony Lane, however, insists otherwise.
"The chemical had nothing to do with that," Lane told The Pantagraph. Instead, he explains, the smoke seen rising from the warehouse was caused by burning support poles. Most recent reports suggest a lightening strike may have struck the facility during the rainstorm and triggered the blaze.
Despite the unclear nature of the fire, nearby Tri Point Junior High/Elementary Schools were closed in the early morning with concern over possible toxic fumes being carried in the wind. Nearby homeowners were also evacuated and a half-mile of Route 24 was closed in either direction. Lane insists this was not due to a chemical threat, but that they were "erring on the side of caution."
The firefighters used various fire suppression techniques to quell the smoldering fire, including bags of sand poured over the laden soybeans. Although a hazardous materials team responded to the fire, it is unclear if a toxic gas detector or fire detectors initially alerted first responders of the blaze. No injuries were reported.
Milly Santiago, an investigator for the state fire marshal's office, is looking into the possibility of a lightning strike. "But the investigation is still open", Santiago explained to the Paxton Record. The office is currently awaiting a report from the facility's insurance company.
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