Charges may be brought in connection with the Cayce plastics fire that started Friday and was only put out Sunday, a city official said Sunday.
Although at this point, city fire officials dont believe the fire was intentionally set, officials are exploring the possibility that fire-prevention regulations may have been violated, city public safety Lt. Jeff Simmons said.
Simmons declined to comment on what the charges would be or against whom they would be made, but he indicated any action would come soon.
Meanwhile, city officials are looking at unexpected expenses connected to the fire that are expected to poke a hole in the city of Cayces $9 million annual budget.
On Saturday, as the fire continued burning, city officials signed a contract estimated at $500,000 with Hepaco, a national environmental disaster emergency response company. Hepaco, headquartered in Charlotte, has the kind of heavy equipment and experience to fight a fire fueled by large supplies of oil or oil-based substances, officials said.
We certainly werent planning on this, Mayor Elise Partin said Sunday evening. We are hoping the state will help us out because we dont have it. This is not something you budget for.
Partin said she believed the plastics recycling company World Wide Recycling, also called Global Plastics Recycling had no insurance. Company officials could not be reached Sunday night. The plant is at 2350 Foreman St.
The fire, which started Friday morning shortly before 9, was fueled by tons of shredded plastic the plant has on hand to recycle into plastic boards used for decks on houses, Simmons said.
Shredded plastic is made out of petroleum, which burns very fast and very hot and produces a lot of thick, black smoke, Simmons said.
As firefighters battled the blaze Friday and Saturday in 100-degree-plus heat, the roof of the large concrete building the burning plastic was in collapsed, Simmons said.
That meant a large, oil-based fire was raging under a collapsed roof with the buildings four exterior walls still standing, Simmons said. Firefighters found it almost impossible to get water into that encapsulated fire to put it out, he said.
Hepaco had the equipment large cranelike backhoe-type machines to collapse the walls and then start to effectively stir the roof, the walls and the burning plastic in a fiery cauldron into which firefighters could finally pour thousands of gallons of water to extinguish the fire, Simmons said.
It was only with Hepacos help that the fire, with its potentially toxic smoke and pollution, was put out Sunday around 10 a.m., Simmons said.
The fire was one of the two or three largest fires Cayce has had in the past 25 years, Simmons said. He had no estimate on the dollar amount of damage.
Another unexpected cost to Cayce may be the money the city has to pay to three other water providers that are now giving it water.
Thats because as firefighters fought the fire, pollutants from the blaze and the fire-retardant chemicals they used drained into a creek that goes into the Congaree River, just upstream from Cayces drinking water intake pipes.
To prevent contamination of Cayces drinking water and plant equipment, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control officials ordered the citys water plant closed.
Consequently, to keep water flowing to residents, Cayce officials began using water from West Columbia, Columbia and the Lexington County Joint Municipal Water and Sewer Commission.
Partin did not know Sunday evening how much money her city would have to pay the other water providers.
When you are in an emergency situation like we were in, you just act, and you trust that the other entities will do what they want done to them when they have an emergency, Partin said.
Neither did Partin know when state health officials will OK reopening Cayces water plant. Were waiting on DHEC, she said.
To help Cayces fire department battle the blaze, firefighters came from some 30 departments across South Carolina Friday and Saturday. At times, there were easily more than 100 firefighters on the scene, Simmons said.
Although firefighters use air-conditioning stations to get relief from heat while fighting such blazes, more than 10 firefighters suffered from varying degrees of heat exhaustion. They were either sent to a hospital emergency room or given fluids, he said.
Those were the only injuries associated with the fire, he said. No workers at the plant were hurt, he said.
The plastics plant is in an industrial section of Cayce. The nearest houses are a half-mile or so away. No residences were evacuated, but some businesses nearer to the plant were evacuated, officials said.
Simmons said he can only remember one or two other fires as bad as this one. Cayce is a city of some 12,500 across the Congaree River from Columbia.
Basically, this was a nasty fire that wouldnt go out, and we spent three days on it, and we had to call on outside resources, Simmons said.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.