ELLWOOD CITY (KDKA)- A huge column of thick black smoke shot hundreds of feet into the sky from a fire at the Inmetco battery recycling plant in Ellwood City Sunday.
The fire broke out in a warehouse containing lithium batteries, which are capable of igniting spontaneously and exploding when overheated.
But, that was only the beginning of the headaches for firefighters.
“With lithium, that causes a problem with the fire department because we can’t actually activate water on that fire. By the time we got everything stretched out and ready to go, the fire spread throughout the building,” Ellwood City Fire Chief Rick Myers said.
Sean Chumora lives a few miles from the plant. His son is a volunteer firefighter with Franklin Township and responded to the scene.
“This one is as bad as I saw clear from house. The smoke actually covered my house and I knew my son was here so I wanted to make sure I came down,” he said.
The plant recycles batteries for cell phones and radios. There were a number of explosions, but lithium wasn’t the only concern.
“What’s involved in that building are a mix of lead acid batteries, lithium ion batteries and also some nickel cadmium batteries,” Lawrence County Director of Public Safety Brian Melser said.
Firefighters from Lawrence, Beaver and Butler counties came in to help, including Hazmat teams.
Four firefighters were taken to the hospital for chemical burns on their hands.
The fire was eventually brought under control, but the building was destroyed.
“At this point, the entire building is a loss. Yes, half the building has collapsed, that’s why it’s very tedious to get in there and hit the hot spots,” Myers said.
Neighbors were advised to stay in their homes, but no evacuations were necessary.
The state Department of Environmental Protection is investigating.
Roughly 30 people work in that specific storage warehouse during the week. No injuries are reported at this time.
The Inmetco Plant has had its fair share of unfortunate incidents in the past. KDKA-TV reported on a fire that began at the Inmetco plant in September of 2013.
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