KENTLAND — A state fire marshal has determined the cause of the massive fire that destroyed the International Cushioning Company, located near the intersection of US 41 and US 24, in Kentland Oct. 8 as accidental — mechanical and human error.
“An employee was not standing on a static mat when a spark shot on some material to start the fire and it spread very quickly from there,” said Kentland Fire Chief Matt Wittenborn.”
More than 20 fire departments provided mutual aid with as many as five aerial trucks on scene fighting the fire at the facility, which produces bubble wrap and packing peanuts, both highly flammable.
Because of the polystyrene that was burning, the fumes from the fire were considered toxic, and an alert was made to Kentland residents to keep their windows shut. A hazmat team later determined, by doing air samples, that the toxic fumes had dispersed enough to not be considered a real threat to the Town of Kentland, but with the wind still blowing the smoke toward the town, the alert stayed in effect until after 12 p.m. the next day.
“We did everything in our power to make sure everyone in the town was safe,” said Wittenborn. “We considered evacuation but when the air samples came back safe, we decided to stick with the alert.”
Firefighters were on scene battling the blaze from 8:30 p.m. Oct. 8 until 10 p.m. Oct. 9.
The building was considered a total loss.
“A fire like that is almost impossible to fight because it spreads so quickly,” said Kentland Fire Chief Matt Wittenborn. “We threw more than 500,000 gallons of water at that fire last night. We were depleting the town’s water supply so after midnight, we had to start getting our water from the stone quarry.”
Wittenborn added that 15 employees were inside the facility at the time of the fire but they all made it out safely, and no injuries have been reported.
“We got a lot of help that night, and the majority of them got very little sleep,” said Wittenborn. “I appreciate all the help. I even had off duty Purdue firefighters call me up to see how they can help the next day. That is the type of brotherhood that is in the fire services. Ray Chambers, Newton County EMA director was also a huge help, as were the EMA directors from Benton and Tippecanoe counties.”
The flammable material in the building and the lack of a fire suppression system made the fire hard to battle, Wittenborn, who also serves as the town’s building commissioner, told the Kentland Town Council.
“I think we need to enforce all manufacturing sites to have a sprinkler system or a fire suppression system in place,” said Wittenborn. “That could have eliminated a lot of our problems. New buildings require that, but existing industrial sites don’t.”
Wittenborn added that the owner of the International Cushioning Company wants to get up and running as soon as possible.
While more than 100 firefighters were out fighting the industrial blaze, town employees and volunteers rallied together to help out the first responders. Premium Waters donated three pallets of water for the firefighters, and Murphy’s Food King even opened up after closing hours to make sure the firefighters had some food.
The International Cushioning Company fire was the second major structure fire in Kentland in the past 14 days as a home burned on Owen Street the weekend prior.
Wittenborn said the cause for that fire is undetermined but it is still under investigation.