Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Batteries cause fire, multiple explosions in Ellwood City

Last week, a fire that began in an oil drum at an Ellwood City business spread to the whole building, requiring additional firefighting assistance from neighboring Butler, Beaver and Lawrence Counties.

The International Metals Reclamation Company, Inc., was the site of the fire that was reported shortly before 9 a.m. on a recent Sunday. Fewer than five plant employees were in the building when the fire ignited. There were reports of heavy smoke as well as multiple explosions occurring as much as 90 minutes after the initial report was made. The fire was burning at Dock Two's western end.

The plant is the only site in North America that has thermal recovery for batteries made from nickel-cadmium. These lithium-based batteries can spontaneously ignite and explode if they overheat. Overheating is caused by various factors, and it results in reactions that cause internal temperature and pressure to increase faster than they can dissipate. The end result is referred to as thermal runaway. When one battery enters this phase, it generates enough heat to cause the same effect in other batteries.

The resulting fire can be explosive or turn into a progressive burn-off. Both kinds of thermal events are manageable and capable of being contained in appropriate storage and/or transport environments. However, lithium fires can't be put out with water.

While there was no immediate threat to the public, authorities monitored weather conditions in the event that an evacuation was necessary due to the presence of toxic chemicals at the site.

An Ellwood City Police Department lieutenant remarked that the response to the fire was the biggest effort he had seen in 31 years on the job. In addition to the Hazmat crews, two ladder trucks responded.

Those injured in industrial fires or explosions can suffer gruesome injuries that permanently disable them and prevent them from returning to work. Often, injured parties must seek financial reparations from the civil courts.

Source: wkbn.com, "Ellwood City lithium fire causes explosions, fire still burning," Matt Horn, Nov. 08, 2015

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Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.
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Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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