Firefighters, police and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection crews all responded to a large fire at a waste and recycling company in Willimantic Sunday, and remained on scene for hours working to contain it. It is now under control.
Crews remained on scene Monday assessing the damage and cleaning up.
Due to concerns about road closures and smoke conditions, Windham Public Schools and Eastern Connecticut State University were closed on Monday. Officials said they expect schools will reopen Tuesday.
Crews were called to the fire at a Willimantic Waste Paper Co., Inc. building at 1590 West Main St. around 10:13 a.m. Sunday. Smoke could be seen billowing into the air. Town officials said the smoke plume goes went on for miles. It was so heavy the smoke was appearing on weather radar.
As of Monday morning, smoke has decreased in the area and officials believe conditions will improve as the morning goes on.
Officials said no one was inside the building at the time of the fire and no injuries have been reported, though two people were taken to the hospital for evaluation after reporting lightheadedness and exhaustion.
Willimantic Waste Paper Co., Inc. is a family-owned waste and recycling company that services residential and commercial customers across Eastern Connecticut. The building is one of the largest facilities in town and is full of waste and recycling materials, making the fire difficult to contain.
DEEP officials responded to monitor air quality. A DEEP spokesman said there was some concern about toxic gases in the smoke at the scene, but air quality levels in town are safe. Anyone with pre-existing conditions or respiratory issues should stay inside.
DEEP will also assess any runoff issues at the Willimantic River.
Officials said at least 12 fire departments and hundreds of firefighters responded to control the fire.
Fire Chief Marc Scrivener said the smoke condition has been the biggest challenge with the fire.
“They’re working hard, they’re getting tired and we’re going to have to start rotating some of them off the scene for rest,” Scrivener said Sunday.
Firefighters stayed outside the building as they fought the fire, making the operation more difficult.
The amount of water needed to fight the flames has been putting strain on the town's water system and officials are asking residents to help by conserving water.
“We’re hunkering down for quite a long time here. I think we’re going to be on the scene here possibly for days,” Rivers said Sunday.
Residents have been advised to avoid the area and stay inside to avoid the smoke.
The company is one of the largest waste management companies in the state with hundreds of employees.
Trash trucks operated as usual Monday. They left at 5 a.m. and are using other facilities.
West Main Street (Route 32) was closed most of Sunday, but reopened Monday morning.