A chemical fire Sunday night at Industrial Welding and Supply in Albany prompted the closure of Pacific Boulevard and the evacuation of about 250 nearby residents, but firefighters got the blaze under control and no injuries were reported.
The Albany Fire Department responded to Industrial Welding and Supply, 3415 Pacific Blvd S.W. at about 10:24 p.m. Sunday to an explosion and flames reported by a 911 call.
Firefighters arrived within approximately four minutes and observed several small explosions and fire involving approximately 360 square feet of piled storage of unknown materials located outside the building.
Firefighters initially applied water to extinguish the fire; however, these efforts and a passing rain shower intensified the burning. Firefighters immediately ceased fire suppression efforts and backed away to a safe distance from the burning materials.
A representative from Industrial Welding and Supply responded to the scene and identified the burning material as 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of calcium carbide in 200 pound drums.
Calcium carbide is a grayish-black irregular lump solid material used to manufacture flammable acetylene gas. The acetylene gas, and a significant amount of heat, is created when the chemical comes in contact with moisture.
Acetylene is a flammable gas that can become explosive when mixed with air and exposed to an ignition source. Each 200-pound drum of calcium carbide can produce enough flammable gas to fill seven to eight standard acetylene cylinders.
The fact that calcium carbide chemically reacts with water and forms its own heat forced firefighters to devise an alternate strategy and tactic to extinguish and cool the burning material. Firefighters carefully applied dry chemical extinguishing powder to put out the fire while personnel from Industrial Welding and Supply separated out the drums of uninvolved chemical.
The fire was determined under control at about 1:35 a.m.
The drums of reacted chemical are being allowed to cool under a large canopy that firefighters erected over them to prevent further contact with rain showers that have been passing through the area all night.
Firefighters cleared the scene at about 3:12 a.m. and the materials were left to be monitored by Industrial Welding and Supply personnel.
Pacific Boulevard Southwest (Highway 99 East) was closed to traffic at 34th Avenue Southwest. A precautionary one-half mile safety zone was established that required an evacuation of an estimated 250 people from the surrounding residential areas that included an adjacent mobile home park and apartment complex.
Pacific Blvd was reopened at 3:15 a.m. and the evacuation order was lifted at 3:30 a.m. The American Red Cross sheltered 32 residents at Memorial Middle School who did not have an alternative place to stay.
Twenty-one Fire Department personnel responded to the emergency call and the Albany Police Department and Linn County Sheriff's Office also responded to assist with the area evacuation and scene safety; the Oregon Department of Transportation responded for traffic control. Also, personnel and specialized dry chemical extinguishing equipment responded from the ATI Wah Chang's Albany facility and stood by at the scene.
A partial activation of the State's Region 5 Hazardous Materials Team was made twenty-five minutes into the incident; however, the activation was canceled once it was determined the resources already at the scene were sufficient to control the incident.
Off duty Albany Fire Fighters and units from the Corvallis Fire Department, responded to handle any subsequent calls in the City during the incident. The cause of this fire is currently under investigation and a dollar loss determination has not been made.