Clean-Up Underway at Momper, West Main St. Now Open to Traffic

By Rachel Martin
By Peter Ambrose
By Scott Sarvay

November 2, 2011 Updated Nov 2, 2011 at 12:19 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – West Main Street was open to traffic Wednesday morning as the clean-up effort at the site of the Momper Insulation fire takes shape.

Now that the fire has finally burned itself out, local Homeland Security and state environmental officials control the scene.

Crews are clearing debris, while specialists begin filtering out a toxic form of cyanide from Junk Ditch near the Momper building.

The chemical got into the water after the business caught fire Sunday, killing fish in the Junk Ditch.

Some of the contamination also leaked into the Saint Mary's River before crews could stop it.

But local officials insist city drinking water is safe.

Firefighters are still stationed at Momper Insulation Monday morning as they let a fire in the building burn itself out.

West Main Street remains closed between Leesburg Ave. and Illinois Rd. while crews are at the scene.

The fire broke out at Momper Insulation just after 11:30 Sunday morning. The fire has been contained, but is still burning. The Fort Wayne Fire Department said firefighters will be working into the night.

Billowing black smoke can be seen from miles away.

The Fort Wayne Fire Department (FWFD) said a passer-by noticed smoke coming out of Momper Insulation at 2431 W. Main Street just after 11:30 Sunday morning.

“A passer-by was driving down the street, noticed smoke coming out of southwest door, and turned around to make sure that it was smoke. Turned around and saw that it was, and called 911,” said Cpt. Henry Willis, Public Information Officer for FWFD.

“We have no idea what started the fire, how it started the fire,” said Matt Momper, President of Momper Insulation. “If it were a work day, we probably would’ve caught it, whatever the source was.”

Momper Insulation has been in the Momper family since it was opened by Charlie and Jacquie Momper in 1955. He said he happened to be stopping by the office when he saw the smoke. He spoke to the passer-by who said they already called 911 and FWFD was on their way. Momper said this isn’t the first time they’ve experienced a fire.

“We had a fire in 1986, but it was contained. That was a shock,” Momper said.

About an hour into the fire, one firefighter was injured when a wall collapsed. He was rushed to a local hospital and released later in good condition with minor injuries. No other injuries have been reported.

“Maybe some injury to his nose and hand, but nothing life-threatening,” said Chief Pete Kelly of FWFD.

Crowds of people gathered around taking cell-phone pictures and video. Cars lined up, causing traffic jams at the intersection of W. Main Street and Leesburg Road, and many people also parked in surrounding lots to watch the action. Later, all on-lookers were ordered by Fort Wayne Police to clear the area. Authorities said the insulation materials inside the warehouse were melting and causing pollutant smoke that was releasing toxic fumes.

“The smoke is actually toxic. We need to keep people away from the area and do not breathe it in,” Cpt. Willis said.

“The only suggestions I can give to people out there is, if there is concern, stay in your house, shut the windows,” Chief Kelly said. “I don’t want to alarm anyone, but there’s no point in going outside into this plume [of smoke].”

Fire officials said the fire started out as a “704”, a code meaning a house fire. But soon the flames swelled and the fire was then considered a “706”, meaning over 40 firefighters, some from New Haven and Aboite Township, had to be called for back-up assistance.

Momper said there was nothing inside but insulation materials, and several vehicles with gas tanks in their trunks. Momper credits the gas tanks for several explosions. He doesn’t know the amount in damages due to the blaze, but he said he’s covered.

“You always plan for the worst. We have a contingency plan in place for a ‘worst case scenario’ as like what has happened today,” Momper said.

Hazmat crews and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) were on the scene cleaning and testing the air quality and water drainage around the warehouse. Insulation materials and chemicals from inside were melting and draining into a junk ditch that flows into the St. Mary's River. Bernie Beier, Director of Homeland Security, said his crews are using sand bags to contain as much of the run-off as possible. Beier said there’s no need for concern when it comes to the city’s drinking water.

“Our drinking water comes from the St. Joe River, not the St. Mary’s, so none of this impacts the local drinking water here,” Beier said.

The fire has been contained, but officials still anticipate working into the night. Chief Kelly said they’re going to continue to let the fire burn and hope it burns out in its own. Most of the materials in the warehouse are oil-based, and spraying more water would literally add ‘fuel to the fire’.

In the meantime, fire crews are working in shifts, taking breaks, washing off, and resting in preparation for their next round. Chief Kelly calls it, “Fire Rehab.”

“Part of the rehab is precautionary,” Chief Kelly said. “They’ve been inside the building and close to it, so as a precautionary measure we wash down the gear, get them some new gear and give them a rest.”

FWFD works with EMS as part of the rehab. Chief Kelly said it’s standard for EMS check their vitals as the firefighters rotate through the evening.

But despite the massive fire, Momper has high spirits. He said he has several other offices in Fort Wayne for his 60 employees to report for work on Monday. He has trucks moving from Crown Point, South Bend, Columbus, Ohio, Toledo and Indianapolis with products.

“It’s very sad, but tomorrow morning we will be insulating homes in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I assure you this! We are ready to go,” Momper said with a smile. “We’ll be out there. We’ll be insulating.”

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