Massive Greenhouse Fire Evacuates Heartland Neighborhood




Massive Greenhouse Fire Evacuates Heartland Neighborhood
By: Kate Scott

(Park Hills, MO)--About fifty Heartland families were out of their homes Thursday night, after a greenhouse fire forced their neighborhood to be evacuated.

The blaze started around one o'clock Thursday afternoon at the Dix Greenhouse complex, just outside Park Hills in St. Francois County.  Dix is a wholesale plant supplier for retail businesses.

As several greenhouse buildings burned, people miles away saw the smoke and wondered what it meant.   “It was just like a bomb went off,” describes Park Hills resident Rick Byland.  “It was a lot of smoke just towering up.  We didn't know if it was hazardous or not, so we hoped no chemicals would come over here, so we wouldn’t get sick.”  

Byland was soon evacuated from his dorm room on the Mineral Area College Campus.  Other students were also evacuated from the nearby middle school, head start program, and special school, all of them too close to the smoke to be considered safe.  Later, emergency officials also cleared out around fifty nearby homes.  “About two to three blocks in the direction of the smoke were evacuated,” said Alan Wells, who’s the Assistant Emergency Services Coordinator for St. Francois County. 

Wells explained that the greenhouse buildings were full of plastics and chemicals, including fertilizers and fuels.  When those things burn, they can create toxic smoke.  “We're asking that other citizens remain indoors and keep their doors and windows closed,” Wells told Heartland News.  “It's a health hazard to be standing out breathing the black smoke.”

But black smoke wasn't the only danger facing the 150 firefighters, who came from thirty different departments to help.  Not far from the billowing smoke were several fuel tanks, which could've made the fiery situation explode into something even bigger.  “Fire department members went immediately to the propane tanks and fuel tanks and cooled them off,” said Park Hills Firefighter Joe Crews.  “They were extremely hot when they arrived on the scene.”

By early evening, firefighters had the blaze under control, though you could still see some flare-ups as the sun set. By then, two of the greenhouse buildings had been destroyed, and several had been damaged.  But considering the intensity of the blaze, fire crews knew the minimal damage was something to be proud of.  “ It (the fire) ranked a nine or ten on a scale of one to ten,” described Crews.  “The fire departments did an excellent job of containing it,” complemented Wells.  “It could've been a lot worse.”

Late Thursday night, St. Francois County Emergency Services workers told Heartland News that the evacuated residents probably wouldn’t be able to get back in their homes until Friday morning.  They said that one firefighter did receive a minor hand injury in the incident, and they didn’t want to take the chance of anyone else getting hurt.

Right now, firefighters do not know what started the blaze.  A Missouri State Fire Marshal is investigating