Plant fire proves deadly in Idaho

By | August 01, 2006
A second biodiesel plant in months has been destroyed by fire, and this most recent catastrophe in New Plymouth, Idaho, was deadly.

Personnel at Blue Sky Biodiesel had been retrofitting a formal fruit-packing plant over the past few months and were just beginning full-scale production. The plant would have produced 1 MMgy of biodiesel from multiple feedstocks.

Reports indicate that Blaise Black, 25, was welding on top of a storage tank when an explosion ignited a blaze that would destroy part of the plant and take his life. According to the local fire department, a minor evacuation of local residents occurred when officials became concerned that the thick black smoke generated by the fire might be toxic. "It was about six or seven residents on the northeast side of the building [who had to leave the premises]," said New Plymouth Fire Chief Allen Blevins.

The Associated Press wire service reported that Rob Black, father of the victim and managing partner of Blue Sky Biodiesel, was on-site and tried in vain to rescue his son, meanwhile sustaining second degree burns and suffering from smoke inhalation. The storage tank where Blaise Black was welding contained an unknown quantity of fuel, and the explosion set off another blast of flames that rapidly enveloped the building, causing tanks containing glycerin, among other flammables, to explode. The tank room and boiler rooms of the plant were destroyed, but some of the other rooms were salvageable, Blevins said.

"Most of the main fire [happened] when the glycerin tank exploded," Blevins said. "That set the roof on fire. [The building] was an old, cold storage facility, and the ceiling was about a foot thick with foam and different kinds of insulation. That was what really got burning."

Twelve area volunteer departments, consisting of 75 to 90 firemen, responded to the fire because of a cooperation agreement between several communities in the area. "It was so hot, we would have to take [one] crew out, put them in rehab and put a new crew in," Blevins said.

The American Biofuels plant in Bakersfield, Calif., burned to the ground in February when a spill from a methanol-filled transport tote was ignited. Both Blue Sky Biodiesel and American Biofuels handled their own construction, engineering and process design.
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