Disaster avoided in pellet factory fire
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | April 28,2013
Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo
The Clarendon Volunteer Fire Department cleans up after dousing a fire at Vermont Wood Pellet Company in North Clarendon Saturday.
NORTH CLARENDON — An explosion and fire at a wood pellet plant early Saturday had catastrophic potential.
But thanks to preventive measures and quick reactions by both the employees on hand at Vermont Wood Pellet Company and the 55 firefighters who responded to the blaze, not only was the fire doused without any injuries but the facility’s owner says he expects to be back in business before the end of the week.
“I was very impressed with all efforts to put out the fire,” Fire Chief Norman Flanders said Saturday. “Everyone did what they had to do for a quick knock-down.”
Firefighters from five towns were called to the pellet-making plant in the Airport Business Park after an explosion in a hopper containing sawdust set part of the building on fire, the chief said.
No one was injured in the explosion or the fire and damage was minor, he said, thanks in large part to the actions of the four employees who were working at 4 a.m. when the fire began.
“I commended them for that,” Flanders said. “I told them their quick thinking and actions saved the company a lot of money and it saved your jobs.”
After the explosion, which Flanders said blew off the protective plating that covered the hopper, allowing the fire to spread, the employees emptied fire extinguishers and a suppression hose on the flames and called the fire department before fleeing the building.
When firefighters arrived at the scene six minutes later, the building was filled with smoke but the fire’s advance had been slowed enough that crews working methodically through the structure were able to extinguish the blaze by 7:30 a.m.
“We pre-planned this building a long time ago. All the guys know their way through it, they know the operation and how it works,” Flanders said. “They were all aware of what had happened and what they needed to do to contain it and put it out.”
The company’s co-owner, Chris Brooks, said he was impressed with the efforts of the Clarendon firefighters as well as the crews that arrived to help from Shrewsbury, Wallingford, West Rutland and Rutland Town.
“I give all the credit to those guys,” Brooks said. “We have a really neat, close working relationship with the fire department. Before the fire was out, we had gallons of coffee and donuts brought here for them.”
“The way this was handled speaks volumes to the abilities of the guys who work here and the fire departments involved,” he added.
Flanders also said he wanted to thank the fire crews from the surrounding towns for doing a “fantastic job.”
While Flanders said the cause of the explosion and resulting fire was unclear, Brooks said he suspected a faulty bearing in the hopper that may have generated a spark.
During an internal inspection over the next few days, Brooks said he hopes to learn what caused the fire and how to prevent a similar scenario from playing out again.
Damage from the fire and explosion was so minimal that Brooks said he expects to start production again before the end of the week and plans for an open house on Saturday will move forward as scheduled.
“I doubt people will be able to tell there was any kind of fire here,” he said.