State regulators tapped with ensuring worker safety have opened an inquiry into a massive workplace fire that consumed a Walmart fulfillment center in Plainfield.
An Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration spokesperson said Thursday that the agency will initiate a safety-compliance inspection after flames engulfed Walmart's IND 1 site in the 9500 block of Allpoints Parkway.
The fire which started in the middle of the day Wednesday forced more than 1,000 workers to evacuate.
But as of Thursday evening there were no known injuries resulting from the fire, from which smoke could be seen from miles away. Employees said given the size of the workplace the human toll could have been much worse.
"It's a huge warehouse," said Linda Segura, who works in the warehouse's traffic office. "I'm surprised everyone got out safe."
While an IOSHA official said in a statement that the agency was not aware of any reportable worker injuries, fatalities or illnesses related to the fire, a safety-compliance inspection will be conducted "out of an abundance of caution and given the magnitude of the situation."
The inspection, which can take up to six months to complete, will comprise interviews with employees and management and requests for specific documents companies are required to keep.
"It's finding out what happened," said Stephanie McFarland, IOSHA spokesperson.
IOSHA is a state charter program, whose regulations align with federal OSHA regulations.
In the past five years, the agency has conducted only one inspection at the warehouse site — in response to a complaint in 2017.
"No violations were cited during that inspection and no safety order or penalties were issued," the agency said.
A day after the fire started, firefighters were still battling hot spots inside the building, said Stephanie Singh, director of communications for the town of Plainfield.
"We cannot speculate how this fire began," she said. "It is incredible that all staff was able to evacuate and that is just a testament to Walmart’s emergency escape plans."
A look at the damage: Walmart fulfillment center destroyed. Fire, smoke seen from miles away.
The initial call to report the fire took place at 11:57 a.m., with the first fire crews arriving at noon. They were doing training in the area, Singh said.
Segura, 46, was sitting in front of her computer when an emergency alarm sounded.
Initially unaware of the severity of the fire, Segura and several of her coworkers calmly left the building and went outside. She grabbed her cellphone but left her car keys and lunch bag.
"We were not expecting this," she said, adding that she thought it was another drill. "We're just sitting there waiting, and all of a sudden — like minutes after — the fire trucks started coming so we figured it was something mild."
Outside, they chatted. Badges were scanned to make sure everyone was accounted for and chatter emitting from radios on workers revealed that a fire was burning somewhere inside the building.
"Once we knew it was serious, well, they started moving us out to the front parking lot," she said.
More fire trucks arrived. Roughly 30 to 40 minutes after the alarm, Segura and her colleagues were sent to Walmart IND 2 distribution center, which is within walking distance.
There she could see the dark, billowing smoke rising from the building where she worked.
The fire was far from mild.
Segura lost a heater that kept her warm in the cold office, water bottles, a lunch bag and her car keys in the fire.
Her vehicle remains at the site. Segura said her spare key allows her to open the door but not start the car.
Employee vehicles were towed to a nearby building.
"I didn't think of grabbing anything because we didn't think it was going to be that severe," she said.
Kelly Nickell, a security guard for Securitas, a third-party security service, was patrolling the parking lot when the emergency alarms sounded. She saw the workers exit and heavy smoke rise. She heard the chatter over the radio, first calm then more frantic.
She watched the billowing smoke cover the building — first just one part of the building then halfway and then she saw three-quarters of the building consumed.
"Before I knew it the entire building was engulfed ...," Nickell said, adding that she even saw an outside wall collapse. "I just kept sitting there thinking that it was going to be a total loss."
Nickell said she stopped trucks from coming onto the site until the parkway was blocked off. And like Segura, she observed managers scanning employees name tags to make sure everyone was out.
Nickell said her personal car was parked near the building. Her 2008 Subaru Outback still is at the site. She ended up leaving in a Lyft and is currently without transportation. She doesn't know when she will be able to retrieve her car.
In the two years since she began working at Walmart IND 1, Segura said she's become close to her colleagues — like family. She works in the traffic office which received inbound freight, products that would be shipped as online orders.
Truck drivers drop off trailers and paperwork for Segura and her colleagues to process. A single mother with three children living with her, she anticipates that starting over won't be easy.
Segura still is processing the disaster.
"It's gone," she said, "everything is gone."
Walmart spokesperson Charles Crowson said the company is "working to help associates recover items or recoup those losses."
Employees impacted by the fire will be paid through the rest of the week and placed in Sam's Club and Walmart stores. The company is still evaluating the pay for reassigned employees.
The jobs at the fulfillment centers are typically higher paying than jobs in stores.
Segura said she was told workers would be reassigned to Walmart sites depending on their Zip codes, available openings and qualifications and the areas in which they worked.
"I know it's something we'll adjust to. It'll take time," she said. "The thing that makes me feel good about this is that everyone got out safe. Material things can be replaced but someone's life can't."
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: After Walmart Plainfield fire, IOSHA opens safety-compliance inspection