Firefighters responded to a highly visible fire in a scrap pile in central Helena Friday afternoon, and brought the blaze under control within a couple of hours.
The fire started in a scrap pile at Pacific Steel and Recycling on National Avenue. Emergency crews responded to the scene around 1:30 p.m. as a massive plume of black smoke rose over the city.
“When we arrived it was pretty much fully involved,” Helena Fire Chief Mark Emert said. “We were able to get a large diameter hose on the ground and get it knocked down – the guys did really good – using large volumes of water.”
At one point Emert had to ask the city to boost water pressure to hydrants at the scene to increase water supply, he said. He declared the fire under control just before 3:30 p.m. and said the operation went smoothly.
Crews were expected to remain on scene using heavy equipment to tear apart the scrap pile and extinguish hot spots. No one was injured in the fire, Emert said, and the cause has not been determined.
Emert asked the Montana Department of Environmental Quality to come to the scene to monitor both air quality and water runoff from the fire for potential contaminants.
“You never know what’s really in those scrap piles: metals, plastics, cars,” he said.
DEQ advised those in the immediate vicinity to limit exposure to the air, but did not anticipate any longer impacts from the smoke.
"In the greater Helena area, increased winds starting this afternoon are expected to help disperse the smoke. A strong inversion is not expected overnight due to an approaching storm system, therefore widespread air quality impacts from the burn are not anticipated," according to a DEQ announcement.
Assisting on the fire were crews from the Montana City and West Valley departments. Off-duty fire personnel were called in to maintain coverage over the city.
During the fire, the Helena Police Department responded and shut down several roads in the area to control traffic and allow fire engines to enter and exit.