Mill fire clean-up could take up to 9 months - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Mill fire clean-up could take up to 9 months

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The smoke may be gone, but the environmental cleanup at the Barwick Mills plant in Lafayette will take six to nine months to complete.

The old plant went up in flames last month. A new report by the EPA summarizes the environmental effects of the fire and what is likely to be a grueling cleanup process.

The cause of the fire is still unknown. The EPA says air quality levels returned to normal three days after the fire, but some residents still wonder if they are safe.

READ MORE: EPA to answer questions about Lafayette mill fire in public session

"Everywhere was black, you couldn't even really see. I mean, it was horrible," said Tori Rhinehart, who lives just a block from the old mill.

It took firefighters five days to put out the fire, at times pouring up to 5,000 gallons of water an hour.

Rhinehart remembers the smoke in her neighborhood being so thick that she had to leave her home.

READ MORE: Officials Worry about the Environmental Impact Massive Fire is Having in Downtown LaFayette

"It smelled really bad. It smelled like carpet was burning, and it was awful," she said.

Officials warned residents to stay inside due to potential hazardous materials burning and exploding inside the building.

Run-off and discharge caused the nearby Chattooga River to turn a milky-colored blue.

"It smelled terrible. It was a big cloud of smoke. I could see it all the way down at my house," said Ty Ware, who lives over five miles from the mill.

A 181-page report, released by the EPA, details the air quality during the week of the fire.

It says the air quality was "unsafe" the day after flames erupted, but returned to a safe level three days later.

Most of the debris from the fire is still soaked with thousands of gallons of water from fire hoses.

If asbestos is discovered, that will complicate the clean-up process, leaving some residents with questions.

"I don't wanna die or catch cancer," said Ware.

"It freaked me out, too," Rhinehart said, "because my husband has health problems. My brother-in-law has health problems with his breathing."

It will fall to private companies to remove the debris and clear the site once the EPA gives them the all-clear. The earliest that could be completed is May 2016.

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