CORRIGAN — An explosion and fire Saturday afternoon at the Georgia Pacific facility in Corrigan has hospitalized four, with three in critical condition.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators were at the plant Sunday and have continued an investigation as to why Saturday’s events caused such damage.
Georgia Pacific Spokesperson Eric Abercrombie said it is too early to speculate, but did say the incident occurred in the plywood facility’s bag house.
“There are doors that are high, around the mid-section of the tallest part of the bag house structure, and we don’t know the cause, but somehow the dust in there was ignited,” Abercrombie said. “Those doors are designed so if pressure builds up, they open and vent to push out the energy. The doors did what they were designed to do, but there were employees in the vicinity and that’s where the injuries took place.
“The dust inside is made of wood; it’s combustible. There was a buildup. We’re not sure what caused it; we’re in the process of investigating that,” he added.
A bag house is a cylinder structure that is separate from the place where plywood is made, according to Abercrombie. It is about 25 feet high, 12 feet in diameter and looks like a grain silo. It tapers down and serves as a vacuum for people who are sanding the plywood for finishing use. It pulls that wood dust and contains it into the bag house.
“The bag house has two purposes; it collects the dust, because we then have it pushed to another location where we make wood pellets that we then, in turn, use for fuel,” Abercrombie said. “So, we use every part of the tree. The bag house also serves as a way to control the emissions of the dust.”
Corrigan Volunteer Fire Department Chief John Cobb said the local department was able to respond to the 6:15 p.m. call quickly to isolate the fire, with the Livingston and Onalaska fire departments not far behind to assist.
“It was over and done with when we got there,” Cobb said. “The outside dust silo was on fire. Georgia Pacific had a couple of guys with a hose on it. We pulled up there and got one more on it, then got another truck and had an additional one. We kept everything pretty hemmed up tight in that one spot and Corky (Cochran, Livingston fire chief) got there with the ladder truck, got it rigged up and made sure everything stayed like it was. We got a door open on the bin, the ladder truck got us some water and that pretty much took care of it. The fire really wasn’t that much of a problem. It was up off the ground, but the part that held the dust wasn’t that big.”
Cobb said about half of the firefighters set up a landing zone on the opposite side of the building away from the fire for two medical helicopters to land. Two additional helicopters landed at the football field about a mile away.
The Livingston and Onalaska fire departments arrived together, while Groveton, Apple Springs and Diboll we’re on standby outside the gate at the guardhouse if needed.
“If you split this thing between the explosion and the fire, the explosion was bad and the guys getting burned is terrible,” Cobb said. “But, as far as the fire, we were fortunate to keep it contained and didn’t have a whole lot of problems with it.”
Abercrombie said the plant did not experience what many envision when compared to recent explosions.
“I think there is a bit of mischaracterization,” Abercrombie said. “In physics, it would be characterized as an explosion, but when you’re saying explosion in terms of structure or damage — it’s not like the roof came off a structure or there were shards of metal like in the West, Texas, explosion. The doors opened up and when it built up energy, it combusted and it released. There was an explosion of some kind, but I would almost characterize it as a flash fire. It released through the relief doors up high and the employees were in the vicinity down on the floor.”
Abercrombie said there is some damage to piping that leads from the processing area to the bag house, and Cobb said his department discovered electrical wires that were burned.
“There were people saying it was a boiler explosion, which just wasn’t correct,” Abercrombie said. “There wasn’t any major structural damage and the bag house is still intact. OSHA is on site and we notified them when the event happened. They are there, and we are working with them as they learn about what happened. First and foremost, the attention is to the employees and now we’re trying to figure out the cause of the events and evaluate the ability to restart safely. It is undetermined at this point when we are going to resume operations. Certainly, our thoughts and prayers are with the family members and employees.”