Indiana Mulch Fire Shuts Schools; Dozens Treated for Smoke-Related Issues

Dozens of people have sought treatment for smoke-related issues due to a large mulch fire burning in southern Indiana that shut some schools Friday and prompted authorities to urge people to stay indoors.

Firefighting crews from across the area responded Thursday to the fire at the Fibertech plant in Mitchell that produces mulch and wooden pallets. Lawrence County officials advised area residents to stay inside their homes as it continued to burn Friday, and state officials said about a dozen families voluntarily evacuated as a precaution.

“Visibility is limited in the area, and firefighters continue to battle the blaze and windy conditions in the area,” the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said in a midday Friday statement.

The Indiana Air National Guard began then stopped 550-gallon water drops on the blaze because high winds were dispersing the water, the agency said Friday afternoon. Crews began using heavy equipment to move the mulch to a wetland to help extinguish the fire.

Some residents were evacuated in the immediate area about 75 miles southwest of Indianapolis. They’ll likely be relocated to a shelter, as the fire is expected to burn in spots for a few more days, according to the agency.

Two hospitals have seen a rise in emergency room visits due to the fire, officials with Indiana University Health said. Health workers at IU Health Bedford Hospital saw about 49 people with smoke-related issues, including 36 who were discharged, and IU Health Paoli Hospital saw three patients.

Eight firefighters have been treated at a hospital for smoke inhalation since the fire began, but are expected to fully recover, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said.

Mitchell Community Schools posted a statement online saying classes were canceled Friday due to the smoke and employees have been told not to report to work. The North Lawrence Community Schools district has also shut down schools.

Motorists have been advised to avoid the area.