‘It’s a large operation’: How the battle against a massive Butler County business fire unfolded

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Wholesale Tire Mart on fire in Morgan Township in Butler County began on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, and continues burning Wednesday.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Fire crews and emergency management personnel worked through Tuesday night into Wednesday afternoon to contain a massive fire at a tire warehouse and protect the area from any hazardous materials.

Crews first responded at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to the Wholesale Tire Mart at 4954 Alert New London Road. The fire burned overnight and through most of Wednesday, and it caused smoke that could be seen for many miles.

Christina Whitlock, who lives in the house next door to thebuilding, said she got home from work at around 8:30 p.m. to “all the mayhem.”

“It was really scary,” she said. “The flames were huge and explosions that were happening were the most scary part.”

The fire department let the fire go overnight to burn off the dangerous chemicals inside the building. Morgan Twp. Fire Chief Jeff Galloway was consulting with the Ohio EPA, a hazardous materials unit and others on the scene throughout the day Wednesday as crews tried to douse the flames without sending dangerous chemicals into the air.

Galloway told the Journal-News that crews from at least 15 other jurisdictions, Butler County and the state Emergency Management Teams and the State Fire Marshal responded. The American Red Cross was passing out food and beverages to the crews.

RELATED: ‘It was really scary’: Crews continue working on massive Butler County tire warehouse fire

“It’s a large operation, probably deemed in the fire world as a four-alarm fire,” Galloway said.

Crews suggested neighbors evacuate the area on Tuesday night.

“It was voluntary, we told them that we recommend it, it was all voluntary,” Galloway said. “We already had a plan in place if we had a major wind shift that we would knock on their door and tell them, ‘OK, it’s time to leave,’ so they understood that.”

He said his department was very familiar with Wholesale Tire Mart. The tire dealer and repair shop stores about 1,000 industrial tires and flammable chemicals, so crews perform a safety walk-through each year. Galloway said officials found eight 333-gallon plastic totes containing chemicals, “and we’re still trying to figure out what they were.”

The state fire marshal will determine the cause. The owner, indicated as Mark Meyer on the county auditor’s website, locked up and left at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, according to Galloway. The auditor values the now-gutted structure at $158,740.

Galloway said crews would continue “mopping up hot spots” and then switch to fire watch at 6 p.m. Wednesday to make sure there were no more flare-ups or trouble. There are no hydrants in the area capable of handling fire hoses, so tankers were used.

The warehouse sits on a residential street in the tiny Shandon neighborhood of Morgan Twp. Across a small creek is the Okeana Veterinary Clinic and a couple of closed businesses at the corners on Ohio 126, but the rest of the street is residential.

Morgan Twp. Trustee Brett Updike said the company predated zoning in the township but it sits in an area designated for business. He said the business owners have been good neighbors.

“They’ve been good people, they’ve been good to work with and it’s sad to see this happen,” Updike said. “I don’t know what caused it yet, it hasn’t been determined yet, which I figure that won’t happen until after it’s put out, if there’s anything left to even determine it.”

Updike said that when he took office in 2010 the township did not have 24-hour fire service.

“We used to do EMS from (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.), now we’re 24/7, and they’re cross-trained and they respond to everything,” he said.

Jim Bolen with the county EMA said HAZMATincidents in residential areas aren’t uncommon.

“This position does present some challenges, we’ve been very lucky to have really good weather,” Bolen said. “HAZMAT incidents can occur anywhere, in Warren County we had an incident in the middle of a subdivision. So our teams are prepared to handle this regardless of where the hazardous material situation is located.”

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