NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The state and local officials will be investigating conditions at George Apkin & Sons after a major blaze tied up dozens of firefighters and equipment from around Western Massachusetts on Tuesday.
Fire Chief Brent Lefebvre said the owners of the 65-year-old scrap yard may be held liable even though the fire has been ruled an "industrial accident."
"We are working with the DEP, the health inspector and myself as well as the owners of Apkin, we will be having multiple meetings with them to discuss how we can prevent this from happening in the future," Lefebvre said. "They can be held liable. ...
"Obviously, there's a lot of departments that were taken out of service to come down here and we have a lot of equipment. So far, minimal equipment lost but there will be — there's money involved in all of this. So we will attempt to recuperate what we've been through."
Lefebvre said the loss in equipment were minor, hoses and some broken lights, but alluded to wear and tear of crews and equipment.
The state fire marshal's office has concluded that gasoline left in the tank of a junk car ignited when workers at the scrap yard attempted to remove it. It was at first thought that a car battery had sparked the blaze but one was not found in the frame that is considered the source of the fire, the fire chief said.
He did not know whether the state Department of Environmental Protection was in charge of inspections of such sites.
"We will find that out," said Mayor Thomas Bernard.
Scrapyards are regulated by the state Department of Environmental Protection in the disposal of hazardous wastes. The fire was driven by the materials in the scrapped vehicles and a north wind that amplified the smoke and flames. The fire spread through a pile of scrap 100 feet long and two-stories tall, forcing firefighters to battle it in sections as an equipment operator pulled the pieces apart.
By the end, firefighters were using a thermal imaging drone from the state Department of Fire Services to pinpoint hotspots and dig them out.
"We weren't inspecting the material and at this point, that's not our job to inspect what's in there. That would be DEP and around that is the containment of whatever contaminants are there and that is all on the state DEP," Lefebvre said.
The blaze lead to the evacuation of employees from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, two banks closed downtown offices, the nearby Cumberland Farms shut down its pumps and residents were advised to stay indoors, shut their windows and turn off air conditioners.
Pan Am Railways stopped rail traffic through the Hoosac Tunnel for most of the day and did not resume until 7 p.m. on Tuesday but at 10 mph through the city until fire operations ceased on Wednesday. Railroad ties stored along the line on Ashland Street ignited but were doused and prevented from spreading.
"That was just from debris flying from the main fire," Lefebvre said. "Creosote lights really, really easily."
The chief said the air quality monitoring ceased with fire operations and that "everything was last checked, just before we shut down operations, and given a clean bill of health as far as hazmat is concerned."