Blast, Fire after Silo Dust Ignites

Tuesday, August 26, 2014 @ 04:08 PM gHale

Explosions and a fire at a southwest Ohio grain silo began Friday with a spark in a vacuum that pulls dust off the grain and resulted in heavy damage at the large Bunge North America facility in the village of Evendale.

The structure consists of 18 grain silos, a structure called a hen house, a horizontal storage building, two large, squat silos, and several other structures. The hen house, which holds the vacuum where the fire sparked, is 214 feet tall, which is about a 22-story building.

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A system that runs water throughout the structure in case of a fire was in place, but wasn’t working, officials said.

Fire crews had to go through all of that space and check for hot spots.

Evendale Fire Chief Michael Hauck said no one knows what caused the spark to ignite inside the vacuum, which sucks dust off the grain.

“It was just that right combination of dust particles in the air and that ignition source,” he said.

Hauck said all of his 24 firefighters had been inside the Bunge grain silo, which was built in the 1930s, before the incident occurred.

Bunge had similar incidents at their facilities located throughout the country, such as the one that burned for nine days, so fire officials “had always known that this potential was here,” Hauck said.

Hauck added these types of incidents are not common and had never occurred at that silo before.

Officials at Bunge were not immediately available Sunday for comment on progress and plans for the structure.

Hauck did not know how long it would take to go through the structure and extinguish hot spots. Fire could be on any of the floors or anywhere in the intricate system of pipes used to transport grain throughout the structure.

As of Sunday afternoon, the only part of the structure that hadn’t received clearance was the hen house, where all the windows blew out during the explosion.

“We are going floor by floor, pipe by pipe making sure everything is extinguished,” Hauck said. “We still have some smoldering of products on the floors.”

Crews have cleared the area of any hazardous atmosphere. They’re using a crane to get their equipment to the upper levels of the structure.

Employees evacuated safely after the initial explosion and fire Friday and no one suffered an injury.

The initial explosion came when a spark caused panels on the vacuum to blow. That shook the entire structure, which stirred up dust and caused a bigger explosion, Hauck said.

Company spokeswoman Deb Seidel said Friday that company officials are closely working with fire crews. Several employees were on scene Sunday.

An evacuation order was put in effect for a one-eighth mile radius around the factory to safeguard against the possibility of secondary explosions Friday, Hauck said.

Bunge is an agribusiness business that manufactures and exports food ingredients, animal feed and biofuels products. The company purchased the facility, formerly known as Central Soya, in 2002, Seidel said.

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