Mayor: Chemical fire’s impact on Winona Lake remains unclear

(WISH Photo, file)

WARSAW, Ind. (AP) — State and academic officials are assessing the damage to Winona Lake after thousands of gallons of water used to battle a blaze at a nearby chemical plant mixed with chemicals and flowed into the popular northern Indiana lake, the mayor said.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is gathering information from Warsaw Chemical Co. for a remediation order, and Grace College’s Center for Lakes and Streams is playing “an important role in the assessment,” Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer said in a statement Monday.

The fire in a chemical-storage building at the car-wash fluid production plant on the south side of Warsaw burned for three hours Friday, forcing the evacuation of 50 homes and sending at least seven people to the hospital with eye and lung complaints.

State natural resources officers estimate that several thousand gallons of water mixed with chemicals, mostly methanol, and washed into Winona Lake as firefighters doused the fire.

Larry Flory, owner of Fletcher’s Bait & Tackle in Warsaw, said chemical-laced water melted about a third of the ice on one side of the 562-acre lake. He said ice fishermen found dead bluegill and other fish floating there.

Since 2006, federal environmental inspectors have twice found hazardous or flammable chemicals stored in an unsafe manner at the Warsaw Chemical plant, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The newspaper said a review of state and federal environmental records shows inspectors noted as recently as 2012 that chemicals were being inappropriately stored at the facility, putting it at risk of a potential fire or spill.

Plant manager Vic Gamble said Monday that those issues “were all corrected at the time,” and that no other enforcement actions were pending.

The plant in Warsaw, about 40 miles southeast of South Bend, employs about 80 people.

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