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Brantley Recycle Center engulfed in flames

A black cloud blanketed the Brantley region in what authorities have called the worst fire to affect Crenshaw County in half a century.

At approximately 5:30 a.m. Sunday, various agencies responded to what was reported as a “loud boom” at the Brantley Recycle Center, only to find the entire facility engulfed in flames.

Harry Driggers, chief of the Brantley Fire and Rescue Department, was one of the first to arrive at the scene, where an estimated 800 tons (or 1.6 million pounds) of plastic was burning.

“I’ve been with the fire department for 52 years, and that includes 30 years with the fire department in Fort Rucker,” Driggers said. “And I’ve never seen a fire like this in my lifetime.

“It’s just like you’ve got a bale of hay that’s burning from the inside out.  You can’t put it out, and it’s the same with this facility here.”

The Crenshaw County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) issued a warning shortly after 7 a.m. Sunday urging Brantley residents located within a quarter-mile radius of the blaze to evacuate until further notice was given. No injuries have been reported.

According to Driggers, the cause of the blaze remains unknown.

“When we got here at about 5:30, there was someone here who was sorting some plastic out,” Driggers added. “He said he heard some type of a loud noise—maybe a boom—so I don’t know if it was a transformer line or something they were working with.”

At least 11 additional fire departments from around Southeast Alabama—including Bullock, Elba, Honoraville, Spring Hill, Fullers Crossroads, Glenwood, Rutledge, Opp, Dozier, Highland Home and Fort Rucker—aided Brantley in containing and extinguishing the blaze. The latter task is, at the time of this reporting, an ongoing effort.

“We’ve got 11 departments that are here and probably 70-80 firefighters,” Driggers said. “Everybody is doing a good job to save the property and save lives.”

A lingering threat remained for the firefighters well after the fire itself was contained, according to Driggers.

“The plastics put off toxic fumes, and that endangers your health,” he said. “In 9-11, those firefighters got cancer from what they fought. That’s why we have people stay upwind instead of downwind, because it affects your lungs.”

Crenshaw County EMA director Elliott Jones was also on the scene early Sunday morning.  Jones said that he’d notified several additional agencies, including the National Response Center, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Alabama Department of Emergency Management and more.

“We’ve got outside agencies coming now to help us try to get this extinguished,” Jones said.

“We’ve got it contained; these firefighters really do a great job, and there’s no telling what this fire would’ve done if not for them.”

This story will be updated as more information is made available.