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Fire near downtown Indianapolis forces evacuation of five blocks

By Susan Guyett

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - A fire at a sprawling downtown Indianapolis recycling plant, fueled by propane tanks and a massive stockpile of rubber tires, forced the evacuation of homes and businesses within a five-block radius on Saturday, officials said.

The fire started Saturday afternoon at the two-story, three-block-long brick warehouse that houses Nationwide OTR Recyclers, police and fire officials said. The blaze caused more than half the building to collapse, said Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Christopher Wilburn.

The building has a number of businesses, including the recycling plant, which houses 85,000 square feet (7,900 square meters) of rubber tires and 60,000 square feet (5,570 square meters) of wood palettes, as well a 500-gallon (1,900-liter) propane tank and a number of smaller tanks, Wilburn said.

By Saturday night, the fire was contained to the south side of the building, and firefighters were working to keep the large propane tank cool so it would not explode, Indianapolis Fire Department spokeswoman Captain Rita Burris told reporters.

Crews expect the fire to smolder for several days and it may be Monday "before they can get an actual handling on the smoldering," Burris said.

Numerous explosions - likely from propane tanks - were heard coming from inside the building since the fire began, Burris said.

She said the cause of the fire was unknown.

Smoke could be seen 20 miles away from the burning building and stiff winds carried embers at least two miles away, Burris said.

Residents and businesses in a five-block radius of the blaze were evacuated due to toxins in the smoke and sent to a nearby Red Cross shelter, Burris said.

Five neighboring fire departments helped battle the blaze.

Several federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Marion County Health Department were on hand to provide support, including air and other safety tests.

Two firefighters suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze, Wilburn said.

(Additional reporting by Chris Francescani in New York; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bill Trott)

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