National team investigates cause of Belmont Ave. warehouse fire

INDIANAPOLIS - The investigation into what caused a large south side warehouse fire over the weekend was slowed Wednesday after asbestos was detected in the debris.

A national response team consisting of agents and forensic specialists were trying to determine what sparked the blaze Saturday at the Nationwide Recycling Center on Belmont Avenue. 

Investigators will be limited to 20 minutes intervals in the debris, and they'll wear protective suits, goggles and breathing equipment. IFD hazardous material teams will decontaminate investigators and wet down the debris to keep the dust at a minimum.

City officials said they couldn't find past inspection reports for the businesses that were destroyed in the fire. Officials blame the problem on changes in record keeping.

The deputy fire marshal told the building's owner in 2007 that issues with the sprinkler systems, the exits, alarms, water supply and fire department access all needed to be addressed.

The Marion County Health Department and the Environmental Protection Agency took air samples to test, and the results were expected later Wednesday.

"We, at this point, don't believe that there is a significant risk from asbestos off-site. It is possible that there was some asbestos fibers that were caught up into the big plume of the smoke. However in terms of an exposure risk, we just don't think that it was a significant one. But we'll know more tomorrow when we see these exposure results," said Jeff Larmore with the health department.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advised the health department Wednesday that tests results from the air sampling indicated no presence of asbestos. The data indicated that individual asbestos fibers were not released into the air during the fire.

A fire investigator for an insurance company said three of the businesses located in the building that the company insures suffered $6 million in losses and that number could eventually top $20 million.

Officials said it could take anywhere from a week to a month to determine the cause of the fire.

The fire burned for more than eight hours before crews gained control of the flames. Crews stood watch at the scene days later as stubborn flames continued to smolder.

The building once housed a Link Belt facility. It was being leased by Shelter Distribution, Mercury Trucking, Zen Trucking, Nationwide OTR and two general contractors, fire investigators said.

Officials said 60 percent of the burning building eventually collapsed and more than 100 homes in the area were evacuated, Indianapolis Fire Department crews said.

Anyone with video, pictures or information about the incident should call Crime Stoppers at 262-TIPS.

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