Plastics inferno is Chattooga County's largest fire in decades

Plastics inferno is Chattooga County's largest fire in decades

July 31st, 2012 by Tim Omarzu in News

A Walker County, Ga., ladder truck sprays water Monday afternoon on bundles of still-burning plastic at the Berryton recycling complex near Summerville, Ga. Firefighters pumped water out of Raccoon Creek through a yellow hose some 3,000 feet long to battle the blaze.

Photo by Tim Omarzu /Times Free Press.

Black smoke billows above flames at a plastics recycling plant in Summerville, Ga. The blaze started Friday evening and more than 100 firefighters were still fighting it on Saturday night, local official said. Photo courtesy The Summerville News

Black smoke billows above flames at a plastics...

A sign on a pickup truck in a front yard on Raccoon Creek Road thanks the 300 to 400 firefighters and emergency responders who fought the fire at the Berryton recycling complex. It was the largest fire in Chattooga County since 1985, said Eddie Henderson, Chattooga Emergency Management Agency director.

A sign on a pickup truck in a...

Photo by Tim Omarzu /Times Free Press.

BERRYTON, Ga. -- A "blue hole" on Raccoon Creek in Chattooga County got lots of use this weekend -- but not by swimmers.

Parked on the creek's bank next to a rope swing and child's slide was a Walker County firetruck. It had a large suction hose stuck deep in the creek, and the truck's diesel engine pumped water nonstop to help fight the biggest blaze to hit Chattooga County in almost 30 years.

On Monday afternoon, firefighters in a ladder truck still were spraying creek water on burning bundles of plastic from a fire that started three days earlier -- around 4 p.m. Friday -- at a recycling facility at the old Berryton yarn mill three miles southwest of Summerville, Ga.

"It looks a whole lot better than it did," Chattooga Emergency Management Agency Director Eddie Henderson said Monday of the fire.

The blaze was the biggest to hit Chattooga County since 1985, he said, when a fertilizer store and flower shop burned in downtown Summerville.

Henderson said Monday the recycling facility fire would be out in a day or two. Once the site has cooled down, the Georgia fire marshal will be able to inspect and seek the fire's cause, he said.

Figures show fire's scale

More than 400 firefighters and emergency personnel from 50 agencies responded to the recycling facility fire. On Friday night alone, the blaze soaked up 1 million gallons of fire-hydrant water, drawing down reservoir levels, Henderson said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's On-Scene Coordinator Leo Francendese gave the OK to tap the creek, according to Francendese's initial report, which is online.

Multiple types of plastic were stored at the site in large quantities, including polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which mostly fed the fire, and polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, the EPA report states.

On Monday, the evacuation zone had been scaled down to a quarter mile from the maximum of half a mile. Air monitoring will continue, and water quality and soil sampling will be done, the EPA report states.

The mill dates back to the 1830s, Henderson said. The two-story brick building in which the fire was concentrated is a total loss, he said.

A handful of people worked at the plastics recycling facility, he said.

Robert Whitworth, who lives nearby on Ash Street, said that at the fire's peak, the plume of smoke "looked like a volcano erupting."

Whitworth, his wife and her bed-ridden sister stayed at home and rode out the smoke by shutting their windows and turning on the air conditioning.

Whitworth praised the emergency responders.

"They're doing a fabulous job," he said. "A great job. We appreciate it."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at or 423-757-6651.