GRANDVIEW - Road blocks could still be seen at many of Grandview's intersections this morning, as the half-mile evacuation area around the Wilbur-Ellis facility, where a fire broke out Wednesday afternoon, was still in effect. However, by this afternoon it is estimated that many of those road blocks will be removed.
Washington State Patrol Sgt. Tom Foster said this morning that after some air-quality testing the hundreds of people who were evacuated from their homes due to the chemical-laced smoked produced by the fire will likely get to spend the night in their own beds tonight.
"We've moved from the emergency phase into the transition phase," Foster said. "At this point we're confident there is no hazard to any of the people in the area."
Foster said all of the agencies now working on the situation, which started as a chemical fire in a warehouse facility operated by Wilbur-Ellis, a distributor of agricultural chemicals and fertilizers, are beginning work on clean-up operations. He added that the incident command center, which was set up at the Sunnyside Law and Justice Center, is moving back to the Grandview Police Department as part of the transition.
He noted that although the fire is still burning, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined there are no hazardous contaminants outside of the site.
"Our goal today is to reduce the size of the evacuation area until it is contained entirely on the Wilbur-Ellis property," said Washington State Patrol Incident Commander Cpt. Dave Karnitz. "The EPA will be testing air quality in the affected neighborhoods to ensure the safety of Grandview's citizens as they go home. Once the area is declared free of contamination we'll be allowing the residents back in."
Foster said Grandview Police Chief Dave Charvet and the administrative staff from the City of Grandview were working this morning on creating a list of priority sampling sites, including schools, public buildings and roads.
Mark MacIntyre, public information officer for the EPA said this morning they are working on creating a list of buildings to be tested and determine at what level each will be tested.
"They want to try to get everyone in as quickly as possible, but also be as safe as possible," Foster said in regards to those people who have been displaced by the incident.
MacIntyre said testing at this time doesn't include private homes. He noted that whether private homes are tested or not will be up to Wilbur-Ellis and the environmental clean-up company it has hired.
Wilbur-Ellis has hired NRC Environmental Services, which will be cleaning up the Wine Country Road site with the oversight of the Department of Ecology.
Foster said they will be contacting the media, as well as the Sunnyside Community Center, where the American Red Cross set up a shelter for the evacuees, to notify families when it is safe to move back into their homes. He said they will also post something on the City of Grandview's website.
Odetta Linden with the Red Cross said about 175 people sought shelter at the site last night. She said Wilbur-Ellis paid to have all of the people who were staying at the community center put up in local hotels for the night. She said this morning people were busy checking back in at the community center and getting ready to eat breakfast at Sunnyside High School.
She said she thought families would be able to begin getting back into their homes sometime this evening.
Someone else who is hoping to get things back to normal is Grandview Superintendent Kevin Chase. School in Grandview was canceled both Thursday and Friday.
Chase said the Health Department strongly recommended that there be no school until the buildings can be inspected to ensure everything is safe for students.
At this point Chase said he is hoping to have students back in the classroom Monday. Chase said a decision won't likely be made on when the two missed school days will be made up until school resumes, but said he thinks one will probably be made up in February and the other at the end of the school year.
According to the Washington State Patrol, so far the EPA has not found any hazardous contaminants outside the Wilbur-Ellis property.
Foster said it is still not known how the fire started at the Wilbur-Ellis facility, but noted that it will be further investigated once the fire is out.
MacIntyre said once the clean-up company is allowed inside the structure, they will begin determining if the adjoining building was contaminated and what steps will be taken to make sure all of the dangerous materials are contained and removed.