"Fire and multiple explosions destroyed a biodiesel plant in the 4600 block of Iroquois Avenue in Harborcreek Township on Saturday evening.
Several area volunteer fire companies responded to the blaze at American Biodiesel Energy Inc. and North American Powder Coatings, 4680 Iroquois Ave.
Fire officials said they have not been able to confirm whether any workers were trapped in the building.
Flames shot at least 100 feet from the roof. Thick, black, acrid smoke billowed from the building. Nearby residents said they heard multiple explosions initially.
Fire and rescue crews responded at 8:18 p.m. to a report of multiple explosions and a building that was fully engulfed in flames, with people possibly trapped inside.
When crews arrived, they found the entire western side of the building engulfed in flames.
The fire spread eastward to the back of the building and engulfed that side, too.
Most of the northern wall was destroyed by 10 p.m., as well as most of the roof. A short, large explosion blew debris away from the building at about 10:20 p.m.
Harborcreek, Lawrence Park, Brookside, Belle Valley, Fairfield, Kuhl Hose Co., Wesleyville and North East fire crews were at the scene. An Erie Bureau of Fire engine was on standby.
The Erie County Hazardous Materials Team arrived on the scene shortly before 10 p.m.
Building owner Lee Akerly, of Harborcreek, said that to the best of his knowledge, no one was inside the 56,000-square-foot building when the fire broke out.
Akerly, 78, said several million dollars' worth of processing equipment for making biodiesel was in the heavily damaged front half of the building. He said he hoped a dividing wall in the building saved the back half. However, a fire official said the fire did break through the wall, and most of the building was destroyed.
Akerly said the building wasn't insured. "We take such stringent care of the safety policy here, we didn't think anything could happen," he said.
Initial scanner reports reported the fire as being at a Thermoclad Co. building, which is about 75 yards north of the biodiesel plant. There appeared to be no damage to the Thermoclad building.
Throughout the evening, various firefighters were reporting low water supply at times.
Erie police said Erie's entire east side smelled like smoke."
1-tank Elsbett VW TDI , 220,000 WVO miles.
and a '92 F-250 with only a FPHE
It did say that 3 firefighters suffered minor injuries. Sounds like the plant was pretty much destroyed.
Perhaps the insurance rates on small to mid sized biodiesel facilities is skyrocketing.
I haven't found a report on the cause of the blaze. It did apparently rekindle 1 day after it was supposedly put out.
Published: May 22, 2011 12:01 AM EST
Updated: May 21, 2011 11:46 PM EST
Our view: Erie needs answers about biofuels fire
How much do we know about how biofuels are produced? Not enough, apparently.
That's our conclusion after fire and explosions destroyed an industrial plant in Harborcreek Township a week ago Saturday. The fire at American Biodiesel Energy Inc. and North American Powder Coatings, 4680 Iroquois Ave., required heroic efforts by 12 volunteer firefighting companies, with Erie firefighters on standby. Volunteers returned twice when the fire rekindled.
More than one-quarter of the estimated 100 responding firefighters have been treated for respiratory problems. These firefighters and their chiefs are right to be concerned about their exposure to harmful substances. The Erie community, in turn, is justified to ask about the plant's operations and the hazards it presented.
"We've been to that plant a lot over the years, with all the chemicals, and we were just never sure exactly what's in there," said Fairfield Hose Co. Chief Jim Hawryliw, who organized a meeting on Wednesday for firefighters to air their health concerns. "It's been ongoing for 30 to 40 years. That was always the building we were afraid was going to burn for the simple fact that there are so many chemicals in there," he said.
Erie County Emergency Management Agency Director Dale Robinson questioned the reliability of information that plant owner Lee Akerly, 78, provided about products on the site. "We really don't know what was really in there. We know what he told us and what we saw," Robinson said. "(Akerly) did give us a list of chemicals in there. But I know at least one chemical that the team found was not on there, probably one of the nastier chemicals on-site."
Akerly must be forthcoming now about any and all information that investigators need to produce a detailed, public report about the risks at this plant and the dangers to firefighters, residents and the environment.
We also are alarmed that Akerly told reporter Ron Leonardi that he had no insurance. "We take such stringent care of the safety policy here, we didn't think anything could happen," Akerly said on the night of the fire.
This doesn't surprise us. In a Feb. 17, 2010, story by Jim Martin, Akerly compared his biodiesel production operation to "Junkyard Wars," a TV show, because he assembled equipment from castoffs. Akerly is proud of this ingenuity. "I'm sure a business grad from college would come in here and say, 'This won't fly,'" Akerly said then. "They don't know how to grovel in the dirt and pick up crumbs." Unfortunately, the volunteer fire companies who battled this frightening inferno now will have to spend as much as $1.5 million to replace contaminated gear and equipment.
Erie is home to the acclaimed Hero BX, a leading producer of biofuels in the U.S. "Biofuels will help break our addiction" to oil, says PennFuture, an environmental advocacy group based in Harrisburg. A thorough probe into the May 14 Harborcreek fire will make sure that the biofuels industry isn't tarnished by one low-tech operation.
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