Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Fire guts Creps plant

by SAM KUSIC skusic@indianagazette.net on October 23, 2012 11:00 AM

Firefighters from throughout Indiana and neighboring counties were trying to contain a blaze this morning at the Creps United Publications printing plant in White Township.

The fire was reported at 8:37 a.m., and calls for assistance drew firefighters from Indiana as well as from Armstrong, Cambria and Westmoreland counties.

It wasn't clear this morning how the fire started, but it produced thick, acrid smoke that was pouring from any place it could escape from the plant -- rooftop vents, opened doors, window seams and loading bay doors.

[Click through to the scoopbug gallery to see more photos from the scene of the fire.]

A plume of smoke reportedly could be seen from as far as way as Reeger's Farm in Armstrong Township. The odor carried at least a quarter-mile away east on Philadelphia Street.

Businesses in the vicinity of the fire were being told to shut down air handling units. A hazardous materials team was called to assist.

At the rear of the plant, which sits off Philadelphia Street, a trailer parked at a loading bay was being consumed by flames, and fire could been seen around opened bay doors, which suddenly slammed shut when the flames apparently burned through the mechanisms holding them open.

An explosion also was heard inside the building shortly after 9 a.m.

Firefighters were staging at the front and sides of the plant, and PennDOT crews closed Philadelphia Street to through traffic.

As firefighters attacked the blaze from the ground and from ladder trucks, employees gathered outside and watched.

One group said the fire spread rapidly.

In the time that lapsed between when they initially noticed some flames and grabbed fire extinguishers, the flames had already grown several feet high.

"It went up quick," said Zach Peruso, a press roll tender. "I ran out before it started blazing."

Employees said the fire may have started in an area near heaters used to dry ink on freshly printed pieces.

Creps is a commercial printing business that specializes in printing retail advertising inserts, especially grocery inserts, for newspapers across America, including The Indiana Gazette.

The business traces its roots to about 1930, when the Howard Creps family printed and distributed insurance pamphlets and "Penny Savers" in the basement of the family home along Chestnut Street and led to the publication of The Indiana Countian, a weekly newspaper that was printed in a building at the back of the lot.

Creps later published the Clymer Sun and the Homer City News.

In 1948, the company changed its name to Creps United Publications. In 1963, it moved its headquarters to 1163 Water St.

As more space was needed for presses and paper storage, Creps expanded into the plant that was burning this morning.

In 2001, the company installed a $9.5 million state-of-the-art printing press and enlarged the plant so that the business could expand into new markets.

A person who answered the phone at the company's Water Street office said officials were still trying to gather information and that no details were immediately available.

Staff writer Randy Wells contributed to this report.

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