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Officials: Fire at Highwood USA under control

A working commercial fire at the Highwood USA building in the Tidewood Industrial Park is now under control, officials say.

Early Wednesday, a supervisor with the Schuylkill County Communications Center said the fire was called in at 9:25 a.m. at 87 Tide Road.

“It started outside the building and went inside,” the supervisor said.

Hometown Assistant Fire Chief and incident commander Dave Crewell reported no injuries.

There is no active fire at this time, as it was deemed under control at 1:15 p.m.

The cause, according to Crewell, is “human error” and the fire originated outside. Crewell noted earlier that a propane tank on a forklift exploded. Crewell said there are three inches of water throughout the entire building.

Firefighters from Schuylkill, Luzerne and Carbon counties were on scene, including representatives of both Schuylkill and Carbon’s Offices of Emergency Management.

Scott Krater, Schuylkill County communications director, is on scene. John Matz, emergency management director is away at training and not available for comment.

All employees of the plant were evacuated to a secure location. Crewell did not know how many employees were inside.

Justin Paisley, a Tamaqua native, is a profile technician at Highwood USA.

“We evacuated out the front where our evacuation spot is and the fire happened in the back of the plant,” said Paisley. “I just heard people say there’s a big fire and we had to get out.

“We do monthly safety things, they handled it very well. Managers did roll call and we communicated with fire police. ... Nobody really panicked, I tell you what, people were accountable for everybody, they wanted to make sure everyone was out, and that was the most important thing - everybody got out safe. The first responders did a hell of a job.”

Area residents were requested to stay inside their homes. Air monitors are in place throughout the area but have not detected toxic levels of fumes.

Crewell said he does not know the chemicals used on site, but requested Schuylkill EMA because of the potential for such an occurrence.

Firefighters were decontaminated as a precaution with water being sprayed on their gear.

Earlier in the day, Rush Township issued a warning to residents to stay away from the area around Walmart, while St. Jerome Regional School was instructed to shelter in place.

“We did put a code red out to residents to avoid the Walmart area if they could,” said Debbie DelFranco, Rush Twp. Secretary/Treasurer.

DelFranco said the Rush supervisors are aware of the situation.

“I am submitting a declaration of disaster. We’ve had other municipality departments come into play also to help us with that.”

Hometown Volunteer Fire Company also asked residents to avoid the area to allow crews better access. Smoke could be seen as far away as Broad Street in Tamaqua and the east end of Nesquehoning.

Alicia Silliman, Administrator of the Hometown Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, said there was no plan to evacuate, but they continued to monitor the situation throughout the day.

“The fire company performed air quality testing and all is good,” she added.

More details will be released as they become available.

Smoke from the Highwood USA fire can be seen from miles away. COPYRIGHT LARRY NEFF/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Firefighters from all over the region are battling the plastics fire at Highwood USA. COPYRIGHT LARRY NEFF/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Firefighters encountered heavy smoke when they arrived at Highwood USA. SUSAN KOOMAR photo
The view from Broad Street in Tamaqua. SUSAN ECKHART/TIMES NEWS