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August 23, 2012

Fire levels King Tire Recycling

Owners won’t reopen Stearns site

WHITLEY CITY — For the second time in as many months, the community of Stearns has been rocked by a catastrophic fire.

    While the July fire which heavily damaged the downtown shopping complex was devastating in terms of historic preservation, the fire which broke out at King Tire Recycling Wednesday afternoon proved a much more immediate danger to public safety.

    The fire started at approximately 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon in a grinder used to shred tires into rubber chips. According to Whitley City Fire Chief Tony Miller, employees had been on break near the front of the metal facility when one stepped outside and noticed smoke. The workers initially tried to put out the flames themselves.

    “It was well advanced before we were called,” Chief Miller said. “Extinguishment [with water] was not an option. The only thing we could do was cut off its fuel supply and contain it until the crews could come in and cover it with dirt.”

    The fire chief went on to say that his department had been called to the site four times in the past to handle smaller fires, and three of those involved the grinder. The Associated Press has reported that the facility was cited more than three weeks ago for having more than 100,000 tires, lacking fire breaks and being too close to a residence. King Tire was to have remedial measures in place by August 27.

    As the blaze spread Wednesday from the structure to the rubber stockpile, a plume of black smoke rose above the community that was visible for miles.

    Concern over air quality led to the immediate evacuation of the Kid Zone daycare center as well as ArmorShield an Outdoor Venture factories. County officials also worked to set up an emergency shelter at McCreary County Park for nearby residents.

    In the meantime, firefighters responded Pine Knot, Eagle-Sawyer, North McCreary and West McCreary to assist Whitley City. Fire crews also responded from Pulaski County and as far away as Nicholasville. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, McCreary County Road Department and McCreary County Water District responded with earth-moving equipment. Also assisting at the scene were the Kentucky Department for Natural Resources, federal Environmental Protection Agency, Kentucky State Police, State Fire Marshal, Kentucky Emergency Management and Environmental Response Team, McCreary County Sheriff’s Department, and McCreary County EMS.

    Crews worked throughout Wednesday night through midday Thursday to put out the fire, which consumed about 40,000 tires and destroyed all processing equipment on site. Chief Miller noted that firefighters were rotated from the front line to prevent heat exhaustion or smoke inhalation.

    McCreary County Judge-Executive Doug Stephens said the county used emergency funds to secure 10 rooms at Parkland Motel for residents Wednesday night, but all were able to return to their homes on Thursday.

    “Some people may have health issues which may make them more sensitive but all tests show the air quality within normal levels,” Judge Stephens said.

    “The National Weather Service out of Jackson monitored air movement hourly,” McCreary 911/EM Director Rudy Young said. “The weather worked well for us, but this is the worst environmental problem to occur since I’ve worked here. We don’t know how long it will take to correct the issues.”

    Gina Phillips, a King Tire co-owner, told the Record yesterday that the owners  are committed to cleaning up the site though it will take time.

    “We are thankful no one was hurt and that we got clean reports from the federal testing,” Phillips said. “Unfortunately we have suffered a complete loss at Stearns and we will not be reopening that site.”

    King Tire, which had operated in Stearns for five years, employed eight individuals at the site. The company also operates in Scott County, TN, but Phillips said those employees could not be transferred at this time.

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