A stubborn fire at a transformer recycling company spewed noxious fumes into the air Thursday, forcing officials to urge residents of a largely rural area by the New York-Massachusetts state line to stay indoors.
The fire at TCI of New York broke out Wednesday night in a small industrial park 25 miles south of Albany, triggering explosions and a fireball rising hundreds of feet into the air, according to witnesses. Clouds of black smoke continued rising Thursday as firefighters sprayed foam over the fire, which was being fueled by sodium, diesel, propane and mineral oil.
About 40 homes were evacuated and Columbia County officials advised residents within a 15-mile radius to remain indoors with windows closed and air conditioning units off. Residents also were urged not to touch any soot covering buildings or cars. Massachusetts officials made the same recommendation as a precaution because the smoky plume was tracking eastward.
Officials were sampling the air to see if the soot was hazardous. No injuries were reported.
"We're just staying indoors and waiting to see," said Rose Vining, inside the OMI International Arts Center. "It's going to be a little difficult later this afternoon because of the heat. They don't want us to run air conditioning."
Vining, the facilities director at OMI, said they closed their 80-acre sculpture park and sent staff home while a group of musicians in residence holed up inside.
As firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze, cars at one car dealership were sprinkled with quarter-inch pieces of ash.
Some firefighters waited for word their equipment was clear of contaminants so they could go home. Returning firefighters were scrubbed off and rinsed by hazmat teams.
"We see obvious contamination on property and vehicles that has to be analyzed to see if it's a problem. People are going to see ash floating in their swimming pools," DEC officer Peter Brinkerhoff said.
TCI's web site says it disposes of electrical equipment containing poly-chlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. PCBs were once used as coolants in electrical equipment and are a suspected carcinogen. It was not known is PCBs were involved in the fire.
Erica Lynn, an administrative assistant at TCI, said they were supporting the firefighters and emergency crews but had no further comment.
Ghent Town Supervisor Lawrence Andrews said he could recall just one other fire at the business, but it wasn't as serious as this blaze.
Gov. Cuomo said the state was working with the local communities and that, "New York state is committing every resource available to assist the county."
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said officials there were monitoring conditions and would advise the public if protective actions were needed in the northwestern part of the state.
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