Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Federal agents gather at barrel firm fire site

By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer

LOWER PRICE HILL - Federal experts began helping Cincinnati fire investigators Monday outside the Queen City Barrel Co., which still remained too hot for workers to examine inside.

An investigator with the ATF directs the repositioning of a Cincinnati Fire Department aerial ladder at the Queen City Barrel Company in Lower Price Hill Monday morning.
(Enquirer photo/GLENN HARTONG)
Special agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives helped interview witnesses and others, and took pictures of the rubble of the barrel-storage warehouse - "whatever they could do from outside the scene,'' said Patrick Berarducci, senior special agent and spokesman.

When investigators would go inside was not yet clear, he said.

Also Monday, State Sen. Mark Mallory, a Cincinnati Democrat running for mayor next year, met with officials from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to ask for information about past inspections of the warehouse, permits the company holds and any public hearings on those permits. Mallory represents the area that includes Lower Price Hill.

"An incident like this reminds us that too often, we live with hazardous materials in our communities," he said. "The residents of Lower Price Hill need to know whether or not Queen City Barrel was in compliance with Ohio EPA standards."

Mayor Charlie Luken has repeatedly said the investigation into what happened would be thorough and complete, and that all inspection records would be examined. An Enquirer review Friday of inspection reports provided by the city manager's office found the site apparently had not been visited by fire inspectors since 2002. And for the Buildings Department, the information provided showed nothing more recent than 1998.

The building on Evans Street caught fire Thursday night. Orange flames leapt into the sky for hours, leading Chief Robert Wright to call it the most massive fire in Cincinnati in years. Firefighters continued putting out hot spots throughout the weekend.

The fire started hours after Queen City Barrel owners received a proposed contract from the city to buy the property and about 12 acres around it for $1.2 million. The city wants to turn it into light manufacturing and office space.

Damage was estimated at $5 million. A cause has not been determined.

Officials initially were concerned about nearby residents breathing the smoke plume, but officials said levels of chemicals in the air were within nontoxic levels.


E-mail jprendergast@enquirer.com

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