Processing Magazine

Wisconsin chemical plant fire chases people from homes

May 13, 2009
According to the Associated Press, a fire broke out at a chemical plant triggering explosions and forcing the evacuation of about 140 homes. The blaze at a warehouse of the Columbus Chemical Industries plant erupted during the night. Fire crews decided to withdraw and let it burn after explosions shook the building, slightly injuring three firefighters who were knocked off their feet. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that air and water outside the plant was safe, and all evacuees were allowed to go home. It''s not clear how the fire started, said Steve Quandt, the company''s executive vice president. No workers were at the plant at the time. State officials planned to investigate the cause of the fire, though Sheriff Todd Nehls said the fire didn''t appear to be suspicious. Quandt said officials monitored air quality and found nothing that exceeded federal air standards. But some residents said the air smelled like sulfur and that they woke up with sore throats. Columbus Chemical Industries provides chemicals to high-tech and pharmaceutical companies, among others, according to its Web site. Records show the plant was cited in 2005 for 10 safety violations, including eight labeled "serious," for issues including handling of flammable and hazardous materials and maintenance of safety equipment. Federal safety officials fined the plant about $4,300. Occupational Safety & Health Administration spokesman Scott Allen said the company promptly corrected each violation and has had no problems since.