October 20, 2014

Elyria
Mostly cloudy
46°F
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Fire strikes Green Circle Growers; firefighters battle for hours in icy, windy weather

CAMDEN TWP. — Dozens of firefighters from area departments continued to battle a stubborn blaze that broke out Tuesday evening in greenhouses at Green Circle Growers in the early hours of this morning.

Firefighters said no one was hurt in the fire at the intersection of U.S. Route 20 and state Route 511 that was called in at 5:20 p.m. Tuesday. At 9 p.m., huge clouds of black and gray smoke billowed from the fire and orange flames shot from the greenhouses.

The fire is believed to have started in or around the greenhouses, according to Lt. William Hanko of the Wakeman Fire Department. Hanko said he didn’t know what caused the fire.

Despite firefighters spraying hoses about 20 yards from the fire, it continued to burn intensely. Heavy smoke combined with strong gusting winds and frigid conditions to hinder firefighting efforts.

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The heavy black smoke sometimes caused the area around the fire to become completely dark for several seconds at a time, even with floodlights beaming on the greenhouse from more than a dozen fire trucks and emergency vehicles at the scene.

At other times, white smoke made it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. The only light came from tiny embers that flew through the air.

Green Circle Growers provides plants to area big box stores and supermarkets, according to its website, which said it has growing “down to a science.”

The website said the greenhouses are heated with radiant heat that cuts the use of natural gas by 40 percent.

“The heat is produced by a wood boiler fueled by refuse from local tree removal companies,” the website said. “Instead of natural gas, they use sawdust, wood chips and even tire chips from tire disposal companies.”

The greenhouses are roughly 100 yards from Route 511, which made it harder to get water to fight the fire.

Fire department tankers poured water into portable ponds that were set up below a small hill.

State Route 511 between U.S. Route 20 and state Route 303 was closed to traffic Tuesday as firefighters responded but was reopen this morning, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Excavators from a private contractor were brought in to help contain the fire, according to Florence Township Assistant Fire Chief Jim Carrico.

“They’re going to try to cut into the building and cut the fire off,” Carrico said. The excavators smashed building walls to ventilate the fire, and firefighters reported progress was made around 10:30 p.m., according to radio transmissions.

Firefighting efforts were hampered by wind gusts of approximately 30 mph, according to Brian Mitchell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Cleveland.

The 20-degree temperature, which felt like 5 degrees with the wind chill, also increased the difficulty.

“We were doing good, but now everything’s freezing on us,” Carrico said around 9:30 p.m. “The valves in the (tanker) trucks are freezing up.”

As firefighters trudged up the muddy hill, Carrico directed tanker trucks from different departments to pull up to replenish the portable ponds. Each truck contained 3,000 gallons of water.

As Carrico directed trucks, water poured down the hill and swirled like a whirlpool in a ditch by the portable ponds. Soot from the fire made the water pitch black, and a Wellington firefighter fell into it before quickly being pulled out by comrades.

Firefighters from Amherst, LaGrange, Oberlin and Rochester Township also helped fight the blaze.

A tanker truck from Grafton Township broke down on Route 511 while bringing water to the fire.

Clouds of white smoke continued to billow above firefighters battling the blaze from cherry pickers at 10:20 p.m., five hours after it was called in.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.