DULUTH - The Recycling Bank of Gwinnett was completely destroyed in a fire overnight Wednesday, but officials already have a plan to have a temporary facility running within a week.
A police helicopter first reported the fire, which produced a large column of smoke and flames up to 100 feet high, at about 9:49 p.m. Wednesday, Gwinnett Fire spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge said.
About 50 firefighters battled the blaze, fueled by recyclables such as paper, cardboard and magazines. Crews had to shut down Satellite Boulevard. The roadway reopened just before 1 p.m. Thursday, and power was restored a short time later.
Gwinnett's HAZMAT unit and a crew from the state's Environmental Protection Division monitored a nearby creek because of concerns pollutants would run into the water, but both declared the situation safe. Nearby power lines created another hazard for fire crews, Rutledge said.
While the cause has not been determined, Rutledge said arson investigators have found nothing suspicious about the fire at the recycling center, owned by the county and operated by Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful.
He said officials have found no link between Wednesday's fire and a blaze at a scrap metal recycling facility earlier this month.
"We may never know the exact cause because of the circumstances," Rutledge said, adding that it is common for fires to smolder and then spread quickly in a highly flammable environment. Workers left the building about 8 p.m.
Red-eyed and still coughing from smoke Thursday afternoon, Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful Director Connie Wiggins said she was sad to see the fire destroy three buildings and equipment, a total value of about $2 million.
But she began planning for a replacement as she watched the blaze with other officials Wednesday night.
"The good news is the Gwinnett spirit is alive and well," Wiggins said of a donation from Gwinnett County Public Schools for temporary use of land along Riverside Parkway, near Ga. Highway 316 in Lawrenceville.
That facility could be active for waste haulers by Wednesday, and Wiggins said she hoped to have the recycling center rebuilt on Satellite Boulevard within 120 days. Demolition began Thursday, as firefighters continued to monitor hot spots.
Officials have already begun plans for a new recovered materials recycling center to expand the program, but Wiggins said the Satellite operation was still necessary to meet the county's demand.
The center serves about 80,000 households through waste haulers, and another 1,000 to 2,000 people drop off recycling each month. Through accounts with church groups, Boy Scouts and other organization, the center generates about $500,000 back to the community.
Wiggins said the center has six or seven full-time employees, plus dozens of jail and prison inmates work each day at the center. On weekends, about 75 people sentenced to perform community service volunteer at the site.