Firefighters respond to large fire at SMS Tire Processing

Published 6:51 am Tuesday, May 18, 2021

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CRAB ORCHARD – A large pile of tires at SMS Tire Processing caught fire Monday afternoon, bringing firefighters from Lincoln and surrounding counties to help put out the blaze.

Crab Orchard Fire Chief Larry Owsley said Crab Orchard was one of the first fire units on scene and the large pile of tires was already fully involved.

“Don’t know how it started or where it started,” Owsley said as the tires continued to burn in front of him.

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“It was pretty well involved when we got here,” he said. “We could see the smoke from Crab Orchard.”

The black smoke from the fire could be seen from as far as Stanford.

As of 4 p.m., the pile of tires was still largely ablaze, and firefighters were waiting on multiple deliveries of water.

“Everybody is all out of water, we’re waiting on more water,” Owsley said.

All Lincoln County fire departments were called to the scene, as well as surrounding counties.

Owsley said firefighters were focused on keeping the blaze contained while waiting for water.

“We’ve kept it from burning down one structure on the other side and kept it off of what they call the shredder. We’ve kept it off of that so far,” he said.

Owsley said they were attempting to use end-loaders to divide the piles but the blaze was putting off a large amount of heat, making it difficult to get close.

For burning rubber, foam is often used to help put out the blaze, Owsley said, but any large foam deliveries would have to come from Lexington.

“And it has to have a lot of water to supply it,” he said. “We’ve got all Lincoln County, Rockcastle County, Crab Orchard City come to bring extra foam because this is way beyond our foam capability, and we’ve got Garrard County tankers coming.”

The tire fire brought several spectators who pulled over near Ky. Hwy. 618 East to watch the blaze and neighbors were gathered on scene to offer help.

The Mennonite community pitched in to help firefighters keep the fire contained, according to Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Don Gilliam.

Gilliam said the fire was pretty much contained by about 7:30 p.m., but little was left of the business and it’s structures.

“They lost everything,” Gilliam said. “They’ll have to rebuild.”

A building that housed most of the company’s equipment burned to the ground and the fire left the business a total loss.

The finished product, shredded tires, is what burned, Gilliam said, which was a large loss of revenue.

“They’ve still got plenty of product to make. The tires didn’t all burn,” he said. “Most of the fire came from the shredded product.”

Owner John Simpson told WKYT News that the family plans to rebuild the business.

EMA Deputy Director Trish O’Quin, who was on scene as an EMS employee at the time, said a large amount of the complete tires were moved out of the way.

No injuries were reported.

“It could have been a lot worse. The Mennonites keeping water on the house and vehicles and stuff like that sure helped,”Gilliam said. “It could’ve been ugly if there had been more houses, especially with the air quality contamination.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also responded to the scene, due to the issue of air and water pollution from the burning tires.

“They talked to the owner and talked to the Mennonite community. They’re not going to have to take any additional action,” Gilliam said. “The water run-off is always a concern, whether it gets into the creek or water supply, and it wasn’t, it was actually flowing into a little wood line and being captured in a pond. The farmer knew about it.”