Jul. 6--CUDAHY -- Mayor Ryan McCue said a state of emergency has been declared as fire officials continue to battle a blaze at the Patrick Cudahy meatpacking plant.
Fire Chief Dan Mayer said ammonia in the plant that has caused concern throughout the day appears to be contained.
"We believe that's safe now inside," Mayer said. "From the ammonia standpoint, I'm cautiously optimistic that we have crossed the dangerous period."
Despite the chief's comments, McCue stressed that the area could still be in danger, and that a mandatory evacuation of area residents was still necessary as the fire raged on for its 14th hour. McCue said he and other officials would re-evaluate the evacuation at 3 p.m.
Ammonia can be extremely toxic and may be fatal if inhaled. The federal Emergency Respond Guidebook says ammonia vapors are irritating and corrosive and exposure can cause respiratory difficulties.
The city has been evacuating residents from within a one-mile radius of the plant since early Monday, but McCue noted that winds have shifted and more Cudahy residences are being covered with smoke from the large plant. The city's population is about 19,000.
"Residents who thought they didn't have a problem are now in line with the smoke," McCue said at a noon news conference. "If you see smoke, you should leave, and if you are in smoke, you should leave."
State and National Guard officials are monitoring the situation, but there were no plans by Monday afternoon to issue a state declaration of emergency or call out Guard troops for overnight patrol duty on the streets of Cudahy, said Lori Getter, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Emergency Government.
Cudahy officials -- and not state government -- issued the first emergency declaration, Getter said.
"We're just ready, working on back-up plans and making sure the (local) incident commander has all the tools needed," she added.
"The Guard is monitoring the situation, as we always do, and will respond when and if any official request for support is made and authorized by the governor," said Maj. Jackie Guthrie, director of public affairs for the Guard.
Police Chief Thomas Poellot stressed that the evacuation is mandatory. He said residents in the area from E. Lunham Ave. to E. Ramsey Ave. and from S. Lake Drive to S. Pennsylvania Ave. should leave their homes immediately and report to Mitchell Elementary School, 5950 S. Illinois Ave., where they will be registered and then transported to South Milwaukee High School, 801 15th Ave.
The American Red Cross is assisting residents at both locations.
"If people choose to remain at this point, they are endangering themselves and endangering the lives and safety of emergency personnel," Poellot said. "We're asking people not to put other people in that situation."
Cudahy did a full emergency preparedness test in 2007 that involved an incident at Patrick Cudahy. That's when they first rolled out the plan they were using Monday, emergency officials said.
Fire Chief Mayer said Cudahy firefighters first arrived on the scene about 9:45 p.m. Sunday, realized it was a large fire and called for backup. About 15 departments with 100 additional firefighters have been fighting the blaze.
Mayer said the fire was difficult to find because it was in a confined space above the sprinkler system and under the roof of the plant at 1 Sweet Apple-Wood Lane.
"It took some time to get in that small space to get to the fire," he said. "We believed we had it close to under control. The sprinkler system somehow gave out underneath."
Mayer said that, in addition to challenges with the sprinkler system, the roof of the affected area also started and continued to collapse and "the fire continued on."
He said the ammonia in one section was the "focus of a great deal of our effort to try to contain it." He said hazardous materials teams from Cudahy, Milwaukee and Patrick Cudahy continue to evaluate how best to deal with the ammonia.