Fire crews start demolition on Bethlehem Steel site, evacuation orders still in effect

Fire from live shot

LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Demolition of the Bethlehem Steel site started Thursday evening amid a massive fire. Crews were finally able to start fighting the fire from the inside.

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The fire began Wednesday morning and propelled thick, black smoke into the sky, which could be seen for miles.

Officials told News 4 there were still pockets of heavy fire actively burning along with smoldering piles of rubber Thursday night.

Fire crews put a few holes in one of the walls that allowed them access to the small fires throughout the building.

Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski said they were hoping to get the fire out by Friday morning, but they aren’t sure if that’s possible. He says the extreme heat is posing a challenge for firefighters.

Multiple agencies were on site, including OSHA to make sure workers are operating the equipment safely and making sure demolition has a minimal impact on the environment.

Evacuation efforts began Thursday afternoon in Lackawanna.

The American Red Cross has a shelter located at the Lackawanna Middle/High School on Martin Road. The shelter can support up to 300 people, As of Thursday night, about a dozen people registered to stay.

The American Red Cross says they’re ready to provide shelter for as long as needed until affected residents can return home safely.

Officials worked to help remove nearby residents from their homes. The evacuation zone was in a neighborhood of about 300 homes.

Mayor Szymanski declared a State of Emergency in the city while the fire was still active.

Those who were evacuated were taken to the Senior Center or Lackawanna High School.

Mayor Szymanski told News 4 about 19 families opted to be transported to the shelters. Many other families chose to stay with family, or to go to a hotel.

Daniel Smalls, who lives in the Bethlehem Park neighborhood right behind the plant, said he didn’t want to leave his pet at home.

“I’m going to stay at the Stay Bridge for now, see what goes on in the morning,” he told News 4.

Smalls wasn’t worried about breathing in the air Thursday morning, but didn’t want to take any chances.

“It’s okay for now by in the future what’s going to happen? Because that plant has been up longer than half of is have been alive.”

Evacuees could not bring much, and were instructed to leave their pets at home with the thermostat turned low. This was done in order to prevent the unhealthy air from entering homes.

The mayor of Lackawanna decided that evacuations were necessary when DEC meters recorded a spike in poor air quality.

“Yesterday was a little bit better as far as the some plume goes because it was so hot it rose up and then basically went away from the community, today because it’s burning cooler it’s kind of rolling it into the community,” said DEC spokesperson Matt Franklin Thursday.

Although recommended, the evacuation was not required.

“Some people told me straight up they’re not leaving,” Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski said.

Peter Keane, who lives in Bethlehem Park with his kids, was ready to go if the opportunity came.

“We don’t want to sit here and continue to smell this stuff,” he said.

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