By Jane Prendergast
Enquirer staff writer
LOWER PRICE HILL - It may be months before cleanup begins left in the wake of the massive fire at the Queen City Barrel Co. because environmental officials first want to know what's in the thousands of barrels still inside the burned-out warehouse.
Special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives left the scene Thursday. They were in Cincinnati all week, helping interview more than 35 witnesses and firefighters, and reviewing videotape of the Aug. 19 blaze, said ATF spokesman Mike Campbell.
But they left because the building remains structurally unstable and they could not go inside. Several walls or parts of walls need to be demolished to make the 400,000-square-foot warehouse safe for investigators. And that can't happen until the Environmental Protection Agency learns what's in the barrels and - if necessary - makes sure any chemicals are cleaned up, Campbell said.
"It's going to be a complex undertaking,'' he said Thursday night after returning to Washington, D.C.
Federal experts will come back.
"We don't know (how long it'll take),'' he said. "It's uncertain as to when that'll all be accomplished.''
The fire started hours after the city offered the Queen City Barrel owner $1.2 million to buy the building and about a dozen acres around it for redevelopment into office space. The city can still proceed with the sale, said Cincinnati city spokeswoman Meg Olberding.
She said City Manager Valerie Lemmie was still gathering information from all city departments involved before finishing a report on how the city will proceed.
The fire came when Cincinnati Fire Chief Robert Wright is working to cut about $2 million in department spending by the end of the year to make up for a projected overspending of that amount.
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