Searching for Cause of Huge GE Fire

Monday, April 6, 2015 @ 07:04 PM gHale

A massive fire destroyed a warehouse at General Electric’s Appliance Park near Louisville, KY, Friday.

The cause of the largest structure fire ever in Jefferson County, which turned into a six-alarm blaze and drew around 200 firefighters from all suburban departments, may not end up known for weeks. But the fallout was tremendous as fire and arson investigators continue searching for clues into the cause of the huge blaze.

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About 3,000 GE production employees now working at Appliance Park were told to stay home for at least the next week — and about 3,000 salaried workers were told they’d be updated about their schedule on Monday.

It’s uncertain how quickly production of dishwashers, refrigerators, washers, dryers and water heaters would return to normal after the warehouse for wiring harnesses, fans and other small appliance parts in Building 6 ended up declared a total loss.

GE and Metro Louisville leaders expressed thanks for the rapid response from fire crews and the fact that no workers or responders suffered any injury. Only a skeletal staff was at the property because of the Good Friday holiday.

“We were blessed. It could have been a lot worse,” said Dana Crittenden, president of IUE-CWA Local 83761.

Workers first spotted the fire around 6 a.m., prompting a 911 call from GE. As the fire spread, a call went out within an hour for more firefighters. By then, huge plumes of black smoke were visible miles away billowing into the sky.

At 9:30 a.m., authorities issued an alert to homes and businesses within a half mile radius to shelter in place as a precaution because of noxious fumes. When the smoke plume ended up pushed to ground level over a larger swath, experts with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet came in to check for hazards.

The smoke had so much soot and floating debris, it coated cars, roofs, decks and roadways and was as a hazard for people with health problems.

The shelter in place warning — touching 33 addresses —expanded out to 2 miles and more than 17,000 homes and businesses when winds ahead of an approaching storm front “banked” smoke to ground level, EMA/MetroSafe spokeswoman Jody Duncan.

The larger zone reduced by mid-afternoon after authorities knew the smoke contained no hazards, said Matt Rhodes, deputy director of the city’s Department of Public Health and Wellness.

The fire ended up contained shortly after 2 p.m. and crews stayed overnight and through Saturday pouring on more water to prevent pop up flames and any chance the fire could migrate to nearby Building 5.

GE builds its high-end bottom-freezer refrigerator there, and it’s also launching production of the new Keurig combination coffeemaker and fridge.

Besides housing parts, Building 6 served as offices and work space for Derby Industries, a private supplier that handles packaging and logistics. Company president Diana Herold said they were meeting with employees who worked at inside the GE building.

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