By Nancy Molnar
Special to the Beacon Journal
CANTON: Residents were allowed to return home Tuesday afternoon after the all-clear was sounded in the evacuation zone around a fire at a closed factory.
Fire Capt. Charles Day said the level of sulfur dioxide in the air by midafternoon showed no threat to residents — some of whom had been evacuated since Monday afternoon.
Sulfur dioxide, known for its rotten-egg smell, can irritate the eyes, nose and throat.
At the peak of the evacuation, thousands of residents were ordered to flee their homes as a fire burned inside of the former Convoy Containers at 1811 20th St. NE.
Some of those residents were allowed to return to their homes by Tuesday morning, said city Health Commissioner James Adams as the amount of sulfur dioxide found in the air trended down as the fire burned itself out.
“The building is completely destroyed at this point,” Adams said.
The health department monitored air quality from the beginning of the incident, according to Adams.
Day said heavy equipment had to be brought in to move debris so firefighters could extinguish any hot spots.
The fire department responded to the scene after receiving a call at 2:03 p.m. Monday about a possible fire at the plant, closed in May 2011.
Hazardous materials experts were called when firefighters noticed white smoke that indicated a chemical reaction, according to Canton Fire Battalion Chief Tom Garra.
Residents were subsequently evacuated in a milewide area that stretched from two blocks north of the plant to about two miles to the south as winds from the north carried the plume southward.
Those evacuated were initially offered shelter at the Altitude Academy at Crenshaw Middle School, but city officials moved the shelter to Memorial Civic Center as the evacuation area grew Monday afternoon and evening.
The Stark County Chapter of the American Red Cross offered overnight accommodations at the Civic Center to those who could not stay elsewhere.
Councilman Frank Morris, who represents the area where the fire occurred, said the city bought pizza, beverages and other necessities for the refugees who fled their homes.
Canton firefighters were assisted at the scene by several other departments and Stark County’s hazardous materials team.
Six schools were closed Tuesday as a result of the fire.
The former Convoy Containers property is owned by Howard J. Trickett of Hartville, according to the Stark County property records.
A woman who answered the phone at his home Monday said he was out of town. He did not answer a message left on his cellphone Tuesday morning.
Convoy Containers’ old website touted a product called Chemboard, which it identified as chemically hardened fiberboard. The site said the boxes were fitted with metal reinforcements and staples or rivets.
“Next we ‘french fry’ the containers in large vats of hot chemical strengthening solution,” said the site, which said Convoy originated the process in 1947 and was “still the only manufacturer of this material anywhere.” It further noted that Chemboard was recyclable only at a pulping mill capable of handling high-sulfur-content paper.
Garra said Monday’s incident may have occurred after workers were chipping at sulfur deposits inside the building.