Local authorities and the EPA won't decide before Monday morning whether it's safe for Summerville, Ga., residents evacuated from the area of a huge recycling plant fire to return home, Chattooga Emergency Management Agency chief Eddie Henderson said Sunday evening.
More than 48 hours after the fire at the plastics recycling plant began, Henderson said it is contained but not yet under control, with a huge smoke plume still pouring into the sky.
"We are in a process called 'fuel separation,'" he said. "The EPA has been pulling the plastic out of the building so we can douse it. We're still in that process."
Henderson estimated that about 400 firefighters from Chattooga County and the tri-state area have been battling the blaze since it was reported late Friday afternoon.
"I'd like to thank all of the crews from the tri-state area for their help," he said. "I'd also like to thank the general public for being cooperative during this time."
People living within a quarter-mile of the plant on three sides and a half-mile on the east, or downwind, side, were evacuated Friday as a precaution. The blazing, melting and scorching plastics emit toxic compounds to the air.
It is recommended that residents within a two-mile radius limit their time outdoors until firefighters get the smoke plume under control, Henderson said. Those with respiratory problems are also asked to leave or stay away, he said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been monitoring the air quality since Friday night. Overnight air quality readings came back fine on Saturday, according to Henderson, and emergency management will make a decision by 6 p.m. today whether to allow residents to return to their homes.
"These recommendations are based on our air quality recommendations," he said. "We will continue to monitor the area and make recommendations based on tonight's observations."