By Aubrey Byron, News Editor
Students may have noticed smoke on the horizon on November 15. The cause was a five-alarm warehouse fire that broke out in South St. Louis just after 10 a.m. Wednesday morning. The smoke from the massive fire in the Botanical Heights neighborhood could be seen from much of St. Louis city and county, included University of Missouri-St. Louis campus. Only two firefighters and one warehouse worker were injured and the fire and no casualties occurred.
Hundreds of toys were destroyed in the fire. Those toys were meant for patients at Shriners Hospital for Children for a Christmas Party on December 10. 1,500 children received invitations according to the Shriners. The Moolah Shrine Center and the Shriners Hospital held a toy drive on November 18 from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. to replace those toys lost in the fire.
The fire was still burning for much of the day on November 16. The structure of the building did not withstand the fire. The roof collapsed, and one wall collapsed onto a St. Louis fire truck at the scene around 11:30 a.m.. At the time of the fire, many city residents were concerned about possible chemicals in the building. In response, the St. Louis Fire Department issued a statement on its social media accounts.
The message read, “Addressing the smoke plume concerns more specifically. [sic] A byproduct of combustion is the production of any number of chemicals. A great majority of these chemicals will evaporate into the atmosphere. Our greatest concern is the potential for the chemicals to become in inhalation irritant…” The statement continued warning people in the path of the smoke to stay inside when possible and limit smoke drawn into the home.
The fire department did not go into detail of exactly what chemicals were burning and being released into the air but did warn that the smoke could be toxic. On November 21, an Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson issued an “all clear” after performing a variety of tests. Originally asbestos was found in the debris in the immediate area around the warehouse. The EPA found no trace of asbestos or other hazardous materials in the surrounding area of neighborhoods or in the air. The EPA presented its finding at the Shaw Neighborhood Association meeting to residents. Many residents remained concerned and requested more tests to be performed.
Dr. Thomas Zink, senior medical advisor of the Department of Health (DoH), assured residents that only long term exposure over the course of years resulted in severe health risks. The St. Louis DoH plans to follow up on this and will continue to monitor areas surrounding the fire.
The warehouse also contained 150,000 citronella candles and styrofoam products. According to the DoH, these byproducts will burn off quickly and pose no serious health risks. Environmental risks were not addressed in the meeting.
The warehouse structure was built in the 1920’s and had withstood many renovations since. It is unclear whether any rebuilding will take place.