Indiana County printing plant sustains 'tens of millions' in damage in blaze
Damage is expected to reach the “tens of millions” of dollars after fire gutted a major commercial printing operation in Indiana County Tuesday, according to fire officials.
The fire severely damaged the Creps United Publications printing plant just east of Indiana Borough in White Township.
Plumes of smoke, swirling with charred bits of paper, could be seen several miles away from the factory at the corner of Christy Park Drive and Philadelphia Street. The smoke remained visible around Indiana Tuesday afternoon following the blaze that broke out at 8:30 a.m.
The 75,000-square-foot facility manufactured retail advertising inserts and brochures for newspapers and commercial publications across the country.
“Thank goodness, none of our employees were hurt. It hits you like a ton of bricks. ... it's really tough,” said managing partner Jacob Creps.
Creps' late father, John, and his uncles, James and E. Garson Creps, founded the company in 1948.
The business evolved from the printing and distribution of insurance pamphlets and “Penny Savers” out of the basement of a family home on Chestnut Street in Indiana and included the publication of the “Indiana Countian,” a weekly newspaper, according to founder E. Garson Creps' 2008 obituary, which appeared in the Indiana Gazette.
The printing company later moved to Water Street in Indiana before it relocated to Christy Park Drive in 1989. The plant expanded into a three-shift production operation with six state-of-the-art printing presses and 260 employees.
“We certainly hope to rebuild, but we're still in the process of assessing the damage right now,” Creps said. “We don't know whether any of the presses can be salvaged at this point.”
A exact damage estimate was not available. State police fire marshal Tim Frew is investigating the cause.
“This whole thing was very unusual. Nothing like this has ever occurred and it's still being investigated (as to) what happened,” Creps said.
Gregory T. Killian, Trib Total Media's director of commercial printing, said the Tribune-Review has contracted with Creps United Publications for grocery advertising printing in the past.
“In fact, we were in contact with them today and we're going to assist them with some of their printing to try to get them through this in their time of need,” Killian said.
Indiana Fire Association Rescue Capt. Ron Moreau said he was amazed at the speed of the flames that consumed the building.
“I was here within eight minutes of the initial fire call and smoke was already pouring out everywhere. And our chief (Mike Kelly) was here before me and he saw the black smoke already pouring out when he crested the hill approaching the plant,” Moreau said.
“Inside it was like a hot box with fire rolling through various parts of the building. ... There was no ventilation,” he said.
Occasionally, a flammable container inside would ignite, sending flames shooting through the roof.
Moreau said one employee reported that workers heard an explosion and then saw a fire near one printing press in the production end of the facility, which had offices and a storage area.
“They ran and got an extinguisher and tried to put it out, but it spread too rapidly,” Moreau said.
Creps said about 50 employees were inside when the fire erupted, but they all escaped.
Two firefighters were treated at Indiana Regional Medical Center. One was injured by a hose and the other had a medical condition, said Tom Stutzman, the county's emergency management coordinator.
“Fortunately, the ink is soy-based and not flammable, but the paper products used in the production is making it difficult to completely extinguish,” he said as firefighters tried to quell the flames.
Moreau said solvents and oils “by the barrel” used in the presses, along with the paper products, hampered firefighters' efforts.
In addition to firefighters from throughout Indiana County, units from Kittanning in Armstrong County, Ebensburg in Cambria County, and firefighters and hazardous materials teams from Westmoreland County were called in.
Two hours after the fire began, the ceiling in the production area collapsed, Stutzman said.
Philadelphia Street, Indiana Borough's main roadway, was closed at Ninth Street, about 2 miles from the plant. Classes were not interrupted at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.