Firefighters to remain overnight at scene of biodiesel plant fire in Sedgwick

07/31/2013 6:54 AM

07/31/2013 6:54 AM

Firefighters were scheduled to keep watch overnight Tuesday at the site of a fire in Sedgwick that apparently destroyed a biodiesel plant earlier in the day.

Sedgwick firefighters remained at the scene to watch for hot spots from the fire that started about 8 a.m. at the plant operated by Green Energy Products, just south of the Harvey County line.

Crews from five jurisdictions responded to the fire and had it under control by noon, officials said. But early on they faced an unpredictable situation with burning biodiesel, corn oil and methanol.

Some cylinders and other vessels exploded initially, Sedgwick County Fire Chief Gary Curmode said.

“The first hour and a half was pretty dangerous,” he said. “Fires involving tanks containing fuels and chemicals are very hazardous.”

There were no injuries. The cause is unknown, but the state fire marshal is investigating.

Fire sent flames and black smoke high into the air at one point and caused the metal building’s roof to collapse.

Bernie Hoffman, vice president of WB Services — the parent company of Green Energy — said, “It started very small and burned very fast. It looks like it’s going to be a complete loss.”

About a dozen people were in the building at the time of the fire, Hoffman said.

“The good news is the building is designed to contain this kind of thing,” he said. “We’re just grateful (no one is injured). Not even a scratch.”

Crews had to be cautious at mid-morning when fire was coming from at least two collapsed tanks that were leaking chemicals. Fire crews from McConnell Air Force Base and the HollyFrontier oil refinery in El Dorado were called in to put blankets of foam on the fire.

“They are the only ones in the area that have the foam to use in any quantities,” Curmode said.

To keep tanks cool, crews poured water on them, including a 5,000-gallon tank of methanol, he said.

More than 40 firefighters worked the fire, Curmode said. Newton and Halstead joined Sedgwick County, McConnell and the El Dorado oil refinery crew.

About a year ago, Healy Biodiesel and WB Services merged and established Green Energy, according to Sedgwick city officials.

Contributing: Travis Heying of The Eagle

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