LOCKPORT – The gigantic tire fire in Lockport was still burning as of noon Thursday.
“This fire is still contained but not under control,” Fire Chief Patrick K. Brady said. “Due to the type of material burning, it’s very labor intensive for us to extinguish it.”
That material is crumb rubber, the product of ground-up tires at the recycling plant of HTI Reclcying. The main use of that material is as a base for artifical turf athletic fields.
The fire probably will be brought under control Thursday afternoon, the chief said.
More than 40 fire companies, totaling more than 200 firefighters from three counties, have assisted in the response.
“It’s unbelievable the amount of support the public has shown,” Brady said.
Some heavy equipment will have to be brought it to spread the rubber crumbs out so the fire can be completely extinguished, Brady said.
“This is still a fair volume of smoke coming off that fire,” Brady said.
But Mayor Anne E. McCaffery said the Health Department has not identified any significant air quality problem.
Cause of the fire is under investigation, Brady said, adding that he has talked to Derek Martin, owner of HTI, about his statement that the fire was set in a vacant building, but couldn’t confirm it.
Police Detective Lt. Todd Chenez of the Lockport Police Department said there were social media reports of someone inside the building at the time of the fire.
“There may be somebody inside the building at the time of the fire,” he said. “There is speculation this individual was inside the building and he has not been heard from since.”
Chenez refused to answer further questions on what he said was a discussion on social media. He and Chief Michael F. Niethe said Niethe wouldn’t say if the person they were referring to was an arsonist or a victim.
“Until we know the actual cause of the fire, it’s hard to say whether it could have been prevented,”
State and Niagara County fire investigators, assisted by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, will probing the cause.
In an interview, chief city building inspector Jason C. Dool said no homes caught fire.
“Maybe some heat damage to some vinyl siding,” he said.
As for the condition of the plant, Dool said the conditions make it impossible to determine whether there were any code violations.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any structures left to the east of their driveway,” Dool said.
However, he said most of the company’s work is done in its main building on the west, or Ohio Street, side of the property.
“Some very brave and hard work by a large group of firefighters prevented any of those homes from catching fire,” Brady said. “I can tell you as fire chief, I had some concerns about the proximity of those homes.”
In January 2012, a broken electrical wire that fell on a pile of tires stored outdoors at the same plant, then called Liberty Recycling, triggered another massive fire.
“The owner of that facility has taken steps in the immediate past to make that a safer place,” Brady said.
Four families were sheltered Wednesday night at the Salvation, four individuals at North Park Middle School, Mayor Anne McCaffery said.
“We’ll be looking at all aspects of this as we go forward,” McCaffrey said when asked if there was a possibility of forcing the company to move.
The city pumped 11 million to 12 million gallons of water in the past day, about three times the usual output from the city filtration plant, McCaffrey said. The fire crews had to pump water from the Erie Canal to supplement the output of the city’s mains, which in the area of the fire last night was virtually tapped out.
“We have drawn the largest amount of water we’ve drawn in some time, in recent history,” the mayor said.
The city has not so far turned on the valve to tap its backup supply from the Niagara County Water District.
He thanked the public for donations of food, Gatorade and bottled water.