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ATF National Response Team investigating cause of Walmart warehouse fire

A trailer is still smoldering in the parking lot and the smell of fire lingers around the Plainfield fulfillment center that caught fire last week.

PLAINFIELD, Ind. — Five days after the massive fire at the Walmart.com Fulfillment Center in Plainfield, a semi-trailer still smolders in the parking lot and there is still a strong smell of fire in the area. 

Many people drove slowly by the warehouse on Allpoints Parkway Monday, taking a long look at the still stunning scene. Investigators are trying to answer the same question curious onlookers have: What happened here?

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) National Response Team (NRT) is now working inside what's still standing of the 1.2-million-square-foot warehouse. The team is trying to learn what started the fire about noon on March 16 and how and why it spread out of control and burned for hours, creating a huge plume of smoke that drifted north and could be seen all over central Indiana.

Investigators flew a drone over the burned-out warehouse Monday. Most of the exterior walls are still standing, but much of the ceiling collapsed. 

The ATF arrived Friday to take over the investigation. They have set up a mobile command center with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and state and local fire investigators. 

Credit: WTHR
ATF investigators enter the Walmart.com Fulfillment Center in Plainfield, Ind. to investigate a fire that broke out at the facility last week.

The ATF team includes veteran special agents with fire origin-and-cause expertise, forensic chemists, and fire protection engineers. The team works alongside state and local officers in reconstructing the scene, identifying where the fire started, conducting interviews, and sifting through debris to find evidence. 

An ATF public information officer said they might have an update on the investigation later this week. 

One issue raised is that firefighters turned off part of the sprinkler system in the area where the fire was first burning. Plainfield Fire Territory Chief Brent Anderson said Friday that the firefighting tactics would be explained at a later date. Anderson said the cause of the fire may not be known for months.

RELATED: What's next for Walmart employees after fire

All of the 1,000 Walmart employees escaped the fire. Walmart said it will pay employees for 40 hours, plus overtime, and place them in positions at nearby stores and warehouses. 

Walmart has another huge warehouse right next door to the one that burned.

The company said in a statement Monday: 

“Thanks to the work of response crews, law enforcement and Walmart's recovery team, our Plainfield Fulfillment Center, IND2, has resumed operations. Additionally, we've extended disaster benefits to those associates displaced by Wednesday's fire at the IND1 Fulfillment Center.” 

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