The cause of a devastating fire that leveled a Lebanon city recycling center remains unknown, although rumors that fireworks sparked the blaze are still running rampant in the community.
“We do not have a cause,” Lebanon Fire Commissioner Duane Trautman said at about 2 p.m. Tuesday, about 40 hours after the fire was reported at Consolidated Scrap Resources in the 300 block of North 14th Street.
“City police are still investigating,” Trautman said. “At this point, no clue.”
Although fireworks may or may not prove to be the culprit behind the fire, Trautman didn’t hesitate to criticize state legislators who he said traded safety for tax revenues by loosening firework restrictions in 2017.
“They need to repeal that legislation,” Trautman said emphatically.
Trautman on Monday told FOX43 that, although the cause of the fire had not yet been determined, “the indiscriminate, inconsiderate and really reckless use of fireworks in Lebanon and elsewhere … it’s disgusting. And this is all because of the state Legislature and this fireworks law.”
He also complained that people were shooting fireworks over the scene of the fire even as firefighters tried to quell it. Trautman said it was “unnerving.”
“You already have firemen fighting a fire. You have explosions, and people are shooting fireworks,” he told LebTown on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s hazardous and discourteous. It’s frankly unbelievable that people would think that’s appropriate, to shoot fireworks over an active fire.”
Trautman said it’s too soon to attach a value to the loss. Insurance adjusters were on the scene Tuesday, he said, but noted two buildings on the scene are “a total loss. They’re gone.”
The fire was spotted by a fire chief and police officer who were passing by the scene, he said.
About 16 fire companies responded to the three-alarm fire, which started at around 10:30 p.m. Sunday. A “tremendous” explosion rocked the scene at around midnight Sunday, sending debris flying at least three blocks away and igniting the roof of a nearby home. Trautman said officials still don’t know what caused it.
“That’s a mystery,” he said. “It was huge.”
The roof fire was quickly extinguished after causing some damage to the structure.
Trautman said firefighters succeeded in keeping the fire from spreading to other areas of the recycling center. He told the Lebanon Daily News that the fire “was held away from other areas of the plant literally by inches.”
“This has been a very difficult night and we were met with difficult conditions,” he told a Daily News reporter on Monday, “a huge fire with a huge amount of combustibles.”
Although the blaze was under control by Monday evening – about 20 hours after firefighters arrived on scene – Trautman said firefighters have been back to the site several times since leaving at 7 p.m. Monday to control small fires and hot spots that remain a danger.
Two houses across the street from Consolidated Scrap sustained some heat damage from the fire, and a firefighter suffered second-degree burns from touching a fire truck that got too hot from its proximity to the fire.
It’s possible the explosion was caused by magnesium stored at the facility, he said. He also told PennLive that a large number of Hershey candy wrappers at the recycling center kept the fire burning long and hot.
WGAL reported that this was the area’s biggest fire in many years.
The Lebanon County Department of Emergency Services reported that firefighters have been called to the 14th Street address several times this year. PennLive reported that Consolidated Scrap also has a facility on Cameron Street, Harrisburg, where a massive fire was started in 2014 by a lightning strike.
Fireworks to blame?
On Facebook, some people are already convinced fireworks are to blame for the incident.
State Senator Chris Gebhard posted a message Tuesday praising first responders for containing the fire. Lebanon resident Brian Kleinfelter replied to his message, asking him and the “guys in Harrisburg” to ban aerial fireworks.
“A lot of resources were tied up for hours due to careless use of fireworks that should not be aloud [sic] for use in cities,” he wrote.
The Lebanon Daily News noted in an article that “there is a rumor that fireworks started the fire, but that has not been determined.” However, the story mentioned – and the newspaper highlighted on Facebook on Monday – an observation that “neighbors were setting off huge fireworks near the building.”
Readers were quick to chime in.
Brenda Garman Delawder said “it was like a war zone” in the area because of all the fireworks.
“It’s pretty simple,” Paul Macken added, “if fireworks are what set this off I hope they arrest who was setting them off and charge them with destruction of property and possibly arson.”
In fact, similar comments popped up in conversations on various Facebook pages.
Scott Church, a Lebanon-based photographer, posted dramatic photos of the scene and echoed the rumor, noting in his post that “fireworks meet recycling center.”
“The fact that people around the area were still shooting off fireworks while firefighters were working this one shows a complete lack of respect from the community,” Brandon Gass commented. “If more fires broke out from someone elses fireworks there would have been deaths and more extensive damage.”
Jodie Meyers of Annville asked on Facebook, “Why would people be setting off fireworks at a location already on fire? Maybe they know how the fire started! I feel bad for the firefighters and fact that the circumstances under which they had to work were bad enough without people setting off fireworks.”
“They need to repeal this latest fireworks law. Too many stupid people with easy access now. It’s causing more problems than its worth,” Kendra Riley said on the Soaring in Hershey PA page.
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