Fire Destroys Local Business, Releases Hazardous Chemicals

Originally published at the Dominion Post
By K. Daniel Glover

An early morning fire at a Rock Forge business on Monday caused $100,000 to $200,000 in damages and released hazardous chemicals, authorities said.

No one was hurt, but two Brookhaven firefighters were treated on the scene and another, Darrin Evans, was taken to University Hospital because of dizziness, Brookhaven Fire Chief Steve Ayersman said.

The block building, about 40 by 60 feet, housed Buck Stoves of Morgantown along Route 7 in Brookhaven. The business is owned by William K. Croft and Kermit Menear, officials said.

Efforts to fight the fire were complicated by hazardous chemicals that caused small explosions, according to Brookhaven Assistant Fire Chief Jim Lipscomb.

Lipscomb and Peter Shumloff, chief of the River Road Fire Department, dressed in protective clothing and oxygen tanks before extinguishing two small hot spots in the back of the room. The hot spots had been smoldering since the fire was under control at 10 a.m., but the chemical explosions made them hard to reach.

The fire was reported by neighbors and passing motorists at about 2:30 a.m. and was under control by 4:30 a.m., according to firefighters on the scene.

The explosion, caused by chemicals becoming mixed with water, went unnoticed until daylight, Lipscomb said. He said no one was allowed in the building early Monday because the chemical reactions were causing a chlorine smell.

The Monongalia Hazardous Incident Response Team (HIRT), which had been on the scene earlier, returned to the scene after the reactions were reported. Unsure of how to respond to the fire because of the chemicals, officials called Chemtrec, a chemical advisory station in Washington, D.C., on call 24 hours a day, to receive a breakdown of the chemicals involved.

Chemicals at the site included HTH stabilizer conditioner, sodium carbonate, sodium bisulfate and chlorine trifluoride, all commonly used to treat swimming pool water. A 200-gallon drum of SOCK IT, the brand name for a liquid shock treatment, also was discovered.

It was originally thought that some carcinogens — cancer-causing chemicals — were on the site, but owners Croft and Menear said none were present.

HIRT Rescue Chief B.P. Shagula said the crew’s biggest fear was breathing the chemicals or having their eyes come in contact with them, especially the chlorine chemicals, which can cause lung problems. “There were a couple of Brookhaven firemen treated this morning for eye and throat problems,” Shagula said. “EMS treated them on the scene.”

Ayersman identified the injured firefighters as Deon McMillan and Brad Fleming. Ervin was taken to University Hospital around noon and was released shortly afterward, Ayersman said.

Shagula said the chemicals, which people use in the Morgantown area every day, are not normally hazardous. “One of the best things for us to do if that stuff starts burning is to let it burn itself out,” he said.

Shagula said HIRT is only licensed to contain hazardous materials, not to remove them, so he and Director of the Office of Emergency Services Ron Kyle recommended that the owners call in a professional cleanup crew. “If the owners start cleaning materials and kicking dust around, it could cost some serious problems,” he said.

Arrangements had been made for Olin Chemicals to fly in a representative in the afternoon to supervise the cleanup, Shagula said. Officials originally had planned to transport the remaining chemicals to the Sewage Treatment Plant, but the plant does not need the chemicals. Shagula, in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Natural Resources, continued to search for a storage place for the chemicals.

The cause of the fire had not yet been determined, but the state fire marshal had been notified of the situation.