IFD: Belmont Ave. fire caused $10 million in damage

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Investigators searching for the cause of last weekend's massive fire on the west side have finished sooner than expected.

A release issued late Friday says they've pinpointed the area where it started. How the fire started is still under investigation. A team of federal and local fire investigators expected they would need week to ten days to dig through the debris.

Losses are estimated at more than $10 million. Now an expensive and complicated clean-up gets underway, at the fire scene as well as in neighborhoods.

Health officials found asbestos in the burned out warehouse building and in debris that landed in neighborhoods.

"You can see it there. It's all around," said Annie Jo Rees as she walked around her modest home. Pieces of half-burned building materials littler the lawn and the yards of homes up and down the block. Rees was wearing a mask when we spoke with her.

Annie Jo's husband already put a wheelbarrow-full in the trash. We asked her if she had concerns. 

"Of course it's scary," she answered.

Emergency order

The asbestos is such health threat that the Marion County Department of Public Health issued an emergency order, demanding the building's owner quickly clean everything up.

"We are hoping they start next week. That's the plan," said Environmental Health chief Dana Reed-Wise. "That's why we issued the emergency order, because we want them to know we want them to start right now."

Easier said than done. The fire sent debris flying into yards and streets miles away. Health officials don't know yet which or how many neighborhoods are affected.

Even on streets where residents tried to clean up, the longer you look, the more you will find. In a small patch of grass and weeds in front of an abandoned home we counted more than half a dozen pieces of debris. Some are as big as a DVD, with others the size of a quarter.

Health officials say don't touch the stuff. Don't run a lawn mower over it and keep kids away from it.

If that's impractical, wet down the debris. Pick it with gloves. Put in a plastic bag. Clean-up crews will pick it up.

"They say a lot of things," said Rees shaking her head. "I will believe it when I see the trucks and people with the rakes and gloves on to remove it."

Before anyone can safely remove the hazardous debris, they have to know where it is.

The Marion County Department of Public Health has a hotline for residents to call. It's open during normal business hours. Call 221-2159. You can leave a message if you call after hours.

The property is expected to be turned over to the Department of Code Enforcement later this weekend. The property is private, secured and off limits.

Related stories:

EPA: No asbestos fibers in air samples from Belmont Ave. fire

Health notice issued to owner of Belmont Ave. warehouse

Asbestos found at Belmont Ave. fire scene