Hazmat fire source still a mystery

Cause of blaze at Safety Kleen remains unknown

Air determined to be `safe'

August 03, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel fire investigators say they will probably never determine the cause of a two-alarm blaze at a hazardous materials transport company in Laurel Saturday that sent fireballs exploding into the air and forced the evacuation of about 90 homes in the Russett Green development.

The fire at Safety Kleen company in the 3500 block of Whiskey Bottom Road began shortly before 9 a.m. and lasted until about 12: 30 p.m. It engulfed two trailers filled with 55-gallon containers of paint, paint rags, solvents, acids, hydrocarbons and toxins.

Safety Kleen, which borders Russett Green, collects, repackages and transports hazardous materials to disposal sites.

Capt. Allan Graves, an investigator and spokesman for the Fire Department, said there were too many variables to pinpoint the cause of the blaze.

"It could have something to do with the temperature, it could be chemicals mixing together," Graves said. "There's a laundry list of chemicals that they collected. Even a chemist couldn't tell you [the cause] because there's just a large combination of elements that could've started a fire" such as the material the storage containers were made of, the amount of oxygen and the temperature inside the trailers where the chemicals were stored. He said hot weather could have been a factor, although that was less likely because the blaze began in the morning.

Britton Hoover, the facility manager at the Laurel office, said yesterday that the materials had been delivered about 18 hours before the blaze began. Both trailers were nearly full and were scheduled to have been driven from Laurel yesterday.

"We do have a containment system where we were able to contain the suppression system and all the water that the Fire Department used to put the fire out," he said. "It's not something we want to have happen again. We're having an internal investigation to figure out what we can change or do differently."

Although residents were evacuated as a precaution, Russett Green assistant manager Linda Henry said no one has called with concerns about the blaze.

Graves said investigators did not note any improper procedures at the plant. The fire was well-contained, and residents should not worry, he said.

"There isn't any reason to believe they were exposed to anything," Graves said. "There is no information that there's any lasting effects. Our hazmat team monitored the air around the trailers and determined it was safe."

The Maryland Department of the Environment also helped with monitoring, a spokesman said.

The fireballs at the plant are known as "boiling liquid evaporating vapor explosions," in which heat causes liquids inside closed containers to evaporate.

The enclosed vapors increase pressure inside the container until it explodes, he said. As flammable vapors are released and mingle with oxygen, they burst into fireballs.

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