Fire Destroys Ohio Magnesium Recycling Facility, Nearby Business

Dec. 30, 2003
Magnesium stored at the Garfield Alloys metal recycling facility in Garfield Heights, Ohio, caught fire Dec. 30, triggering a fire that sent clouds of smoke hundreds of feet into the air and a series of explosions that could be seen for miles and that continued to burn 24 hours later. Miraculously, no employees were injured in the fire and explosions.

Bystanders described the flames coming out of the facility and surrounding outbuildings as resembling the white-hot glow of a Fourth of July sparkler. Since magnesium reacts with water to form highly explosive hydrogen gas, firefighting efforts were limited to using foam on smaller sections of the fire and water to keep the fire from spreading to neighborhing buildings, high-tension wires and railroad tracks.

Garfield Heights Fire Chief Tony Collova said the fire would be allowed to burn itself out, and estimated that could take until the evening of Dec. 30.

Firefighters from several surrounding Cleveland-area communities, as well as Garfield Heights, managed to contain the fire to the Garfield Alloys buildings and a neighboring heating contractor. Meanwhile, a forecast of rain throughout the day and evening did much to dampen the spirits of firefighters, who realized it would trigger more explosions at the facility.

Approximately two years ago, in February 2001, firefighters responded to a similar call at the facility when a barrel of magnesium caught fire. No employees were injured in that incident, but the company has not always been so lucky. In 1991, a magnesium fire and subsequent explosion killed a worker and injured others. OSHA cited the facility for that incident, and has issued a total of 30 citations against the company since 1980.

Residents living near the plant were evacuated, but have since been allowed to return to their homes.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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