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Update: Walmart distribution center ablaze for nearly 48 hours

Plainfield facility continues to burn, with no injuries reported

Updated: 10:32 a.m. EDT March 18, 2022

A 1.2 million-square-foot Walmart distribution center in Plainfield, Indiana, about 5 miles from Indianapolis International Airport, caught fire Wednesday a little before noon, sending out massive plumes that were visible from space.

With the fire still alive as of 10:30 a.m. EST on Friday, the facility has now been ablaze for nearly 48 hours.

“We’re grateful to local emergency crews for their quick response to our fulfillment center,” Walmart said in a statement to FreightWaves. “All associates have been accounted for and are safe, with no injuries reported. We’ll continue working with police and fire personnel and are referring all questions to them.”

The blaze continued to burn into the night despite the best efforts of local fire crews. According to the Plainfield Fire Territory, two dozen fire departments have assisted with the operation, rotating throughout the night to manage hot spots. The department added that units would remain on the scene monitoring the fire “for quite some time.”

According to a press conference with Plainfield Fire Chief Brent Anderson, fire crews that were conducting training drills in the area were on the scene within three minutes, but officials said that efforts to put out the blaze will continue into the night. 

A reported 200 firefighters from more than a dozen agencies are assisting with efforts to contain and eventually extinguish the fire. All of the approximately 1,000 employees of the distribution center and firefighters are accounted for, and no serious injuries have been reported.

Images circulating on social media depict billowing black smoke and fragments of charred debris, which are landing in the surrounding area, sometimes several miles away.

“If you’re in the plume or in the area, shelter in place, or evacuate if you’re already outside,” Anderson said, adding that the state’s Department of Environmental Management is monitoring the area for air quality.

Michael Pruitt, deputy fire chief of the nearby Bargersville Fire Department, warned on his Twitter account, “These burnt materials can contain toxic carcinogens. This is the very reason firefighters wear protective gear and respiratory protection. Just avoid it.”

Other photos posted to social media revealed structural failures within the distribution center, most notably a large section of the facility’s roof that can be seen caving in. Images also depict thick plumes of black smoke that blanketed the area while first responders worked to contain the blaze.

The nearby Indianapolis International Airport, from which smoke from the fire was clearly visible, reported no interruptions to flights.

“Currently, there is no impact on airport operations and flights are not being affected. We’re continuing to monitor the situation happening in our neighborhood. Our heart goes out to all those involved,” it said on its Twitter account.

Officials still aren’t sure what sparked the fire, but Anderson said that the blaze began on the third-floor mezzanine. On Friday, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) began investigating the site, calling in its national response team to help reconstruct the scene.

This is a developing story –– check back here for updates.

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Jack Daleo

Jack is a staff writer for FreightWaves and Modern Shipper covering topics like last mile delivery and e-commerce fulfillment. He studied at Northwestern University, majoring in journalism with a certificate in integrated marketing communications. Previously, Jack has written for Backpacker Magazine and enjoys travel, the outdoors, and all things basketball.