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Blaze, smoke force residents from homes

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More than an hour after flames were extinguished in an outdoor storage area at Faurecia, smoke was still rolling through the yards of homes on nearby State Street.

Neighbors said it was another reminder of the possible danger of living so close to a manufacturing plant.

Autumn Wendel, who owns a house next to the storage area at 2785 State St., said the plant’s location makes her nervous.

She was at home with her two sleeping children — Venice Wendel, 6, and Hanna Huff, 12 — when she glanced out the back window.

“It was more than freaky,” she said. “It was black as night, rolling over the house like a snake.”

She woke Venice and Hanna and told them to pack a bag quickly — they grabbed dolls and clothes, and she grabbed her laptop and camera.

As smoke and carbon monoxide detectors were sounding inside the house, she called 911 and told the operator what she was seeing.

By then, firefighters were asking occupants in a row of nine houses along State Street near the plant to consider leaving because of the smoke.

A neighbor across State Street allowed Venice and Hanna to stay in her house, which was not in the line of smoke.

On the way over, however, Hanna and Wendel were burned on their arms by floating embers from the fire.

Wendel and her daughters had their vital signs checked by paramedics in the Cummins parking lot, where Wendel was given oxygen through a mask. The Cummins parking lot is just east of the storage area where the fire started.

“When you’re right next to it, when you see the flames and the smoke, your first instinct is just to get out,” she said. “Especially when you’re a mother.”

Helen Wheatley, who lives a few houses down at 2705 State St., said she did not feel like she was in great danger — but firefighters still asked her to consider evacuation.

Wheatley opted to stay in her home and said the worst of the smoke was toward Wendel’s home.

Still, she said, she is not happy with the proximity of her home, which she has owned for more than 20 years, to the plant. Trash from the Faurecia plant sometimes ends up in her yard, she said, and the traffic on State Street is loud.

“We’re moving as soon as we can,” she said.

Wendel and her husband, Curtis Huff, have invested too much money and work into the house in the past year to consider moving now, she said. They recently installed new white siding on the home, which on Monday was caked in a thin layer of soot.

Huff was on the phone with an insurance agent to explore what his plan covers in the case of smoke damage, and he had left a message with Faurecia to discuss what happened.

Although firefighters advised the family to evacuate for several hours, Wendel and Huff said they felt safe in their home by noon Monday.

“This is nothing compared to what it could have been,” Wendel said. “Thank God they (the firefighters) put it out in time.”

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