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Explosions from magnesium plant fire blow out windows, send sparks flying

3:10 PM, Dec 30, 2003   |    comments
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  • The fire started at about 3:30 p.m. at Garfield Alloys. The company recycles magnesium products. The flames and explosions continued late into the night. At least ten fire departments were called in to battle the blaze. Firefighters say the fire may not be brought under control until sometime Tuesday. They could only contain it in an attempt to let it burn itself out. The fire completely destroyed Garfield Alloys and a petroleum maintenance plant. Two huge blasts about 7:15 p.m. shot white sparks into the air and broke windows at Garfield Club Apartments on a hill overlooking the plant, prompting authorities to call for evacuations. "It looked like the Fourth of July. The grand finale of fireworks," said witness Anthony Markovich. "One after the other. Explosion after explosion. It was amazing." The Garfield Heights fire department is requesting that residents of the McCracken Road - Broadway area and Henry Street remain inddors during the duration of the fire. They also request that the reidents do not approach the railroad tracks. Firefighters also had to prevent the fire from burning other nearby businesses, such as Collinwood Concrete, which was hit with embers after each explosion from the fire. There are normally 10 to 12 people at any hour working at Garfield Alloys. No one was killed or injured in the fire. The cause of the fire has not been determined. Magnesium is a highly flammable solid. When heated, magnesium powder or ribbon ignites and burns with an intense white light and releases large amounts of heat. A magnesium fire cannot be extinguished by water, since water reacts with hot magnesium and releases hydrogen. Rain made the situation even worse. Magnesium diecastings are used in automobilies and is easily recycled. Magnesium alloys are used in jet-engine parts, rockets and missiles, luggage frames, portable power tools, and cameras. Burning magnesium can produce hydrogen gas, which is highly toxic. Also, flames from burning magnesium can be so bright that they can cause eye damage. Jack Simpson works at a similiar plant and says the fumes can be toxic. "The smell of it, you can, it will choke you," said Simpson. "It can send you to the hospital." This isn't the first time crews have responded to an explosion at Garfield Alloys. Magnesium ignited and set off a fire there on February 21, 2002. That fire only caused minor damage.

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