YOUNGSTOWN - The smoke belching into clear blue skies Saturday morning drew onlookers by the score to a vacant Brittain Street plant on fire for the second time in less than a month.
This time, crews responding to the vacant RRI Tire Recyling complex at 881 Brittain St. chose to let the sprawling facility burn before turning any water on it.
They were called out at 9:30 a.m. and right away knew it was serious, said Battalion Chief Jimmy Drummond.
''When we got here, the roof in the middle of the building was fully involved (in flames),'' Drummond said.
At that time the decision was made to let the plant burn because the blaze was already going full force and also because the complex's size made it difficult for crews to get close with heavy equipment to fight the flames.
Another major fire at the plant May 30 caused extensive damage that also made it unsafe for firefighters to come close, Drummond said. He said he also does not want to sap energy from the department to extinguish the fire only to return to another fire there.
Youngstown firefighters watch Saturday afternoon as the vacant RRI Tire Recycling complex on Brittain Street burns. The South Side facility already had been a target of arson last month, and officials decided this time to let it burn.
''We don't want to have to put it out and then come back,'' Drummond said.
Thick, heavy black smoke belched into the air and could be seen for miles. One woman said she could see it in Columbiana County. Onlookers were taking pictures with cell phones, and one well-dressed couple took their picture with a cell phone posed against the flames. Soot and debris flew through the air, landing in yards and on nearby Poland Avenue. Throughout the afternoon, the sounds of breaking glass and explosions and crackling of flames could be heard from outside.
Christy Summerville, who has lived down the street from the plant for 29 years, said the flames were worse in the first fire, but the smoke was worse Saturday.
''When the wind blew, it was really bad,'' Summerville said.
Summerville said there were never any problems with the vacant plant until recently.
''I used to ride my bike in the parking lot,'' Summerville said.
Her uncle, Ron, who lives a few houses up, also said the first fire was worse.
''The smoke is worse this time,'' Ron Summerville said.
He agreed that, until recently, there have been no major problems with the vacant plant.
Drummond said extra firefighters were not called out to help. He said fresh crews are being rotated in every few hours to make sure the fire did not spread out of control.