TACOMA — Mechanical problems at a Tacoma industrial plant are the likely cause for a fire that triggered explosions and spewed toxic chemicals into the air early Sunday.
KING-TV reports it took several hours for Tacoma firefighters to put the fire out, but a special hazmat team that prepares for these types of fires helped minimize the impact on the environment and made sure nobody got hurt.
The cause is believed to be a mechanical failure with a supply line and a valve, although investigators say the final report isn’t ready. They believe preparation and training kept this volatile fire from being much worse.
At 4:15 a.m. Sunday, Tacoma firefighters rushed out to the Gardner Fields plant, where they heard explosions and saw huge flames.
“We got our hazardous material team en route everybody, at that time with the multiple explosions, backed up away from the scene so that we could determine what was on fire,” assistant chief Alex Wilsie said.
Before putting anything on the flames, they turned off natural gas and electricity to the plant, and then firefighters sprayed a foam water mixture.
The State Department of Ecology and Tacoma Environmental Services responded to make sure the runoff wouldn’t get into nearby waters.
The burning asphalt put potentially dangerous chemicals in the air. The agencies advised families in nearby homes to stay indoors for a few hours.
By early afternoon, the fire was out and environmental contractors looked over the site one more time.
“They did some booming, but that was for our water foam mixture runoff,” Wilsie explained. “No material from the plant got out of the containment zone.”
The Tacoma Fire Department conducts annual inspections at businesses that have hazardous materials, and that team does regular training to prepare for these types of fires. They believe that preparation helped them make good decisions at the fire scene.
“We give hazardous businesses like this get extra scrutiny from our own fire inspectors,” Wilsie said. Gardner Fields does not have a history of problems at the plant.