Explosion at Wash. aerospace plant hurls machinery, causes collapses

Five workers injured in blast that authorities say stemmed from vapours released during chemical manufacturing.

SPOKANE, Wash. — An explosion rocked an aerospace plant in northeast Washington, toppling large pieces of machinery, lifting an entire floor off its foundation and injuring five people, authorities said.

The sheer power of the blast July 14 and the shrapnel it created caused the majority of the damage, and little to no fire ignited at Zodiac Aerospace in the small town of Newport, said Brian Schaeffer, assistant chief of the Spokane Fire Department who responded to the scene.

“The energy from that explosion went through that building almost like a tidal wave and destroyed or impacted everything in its path,” he said.

Schaeffer said the blast peeled open huge metal roll-up doors and led multiple places to collapse in the large commercial building in the town 50 miles north of Spokane, along the Idaho border.

Thirty people were inside the plant, but most escaped with help from emergency systems that worked properly, including a sprinkler system, Schaeffer said. Five people were injured, whether from the pressure of the blast or penetrating injuries from shrapnel, he said.

Two victims were taken to a Spokane hospital, where one was in critical condition and another in satisfactory condition. Three others were treated and released from a hospital in town, officials said.

The blast stemmed from vapours released during chemical manufacturing, but there was no more danger to the surrounding area, said Schaeffer, who responded with a hazardous-materials team. The chemicals are used to make fire-resistant components for aircraft interiors, he said.

But Zodiac Aerospace, a French company that makes aircraft components around the world, said in a press release that the cause of the explosion is not known and will be investigated by the company and government agencies.

Zodiac said it sent a counselling team to the plant to provide support for employees.

“Our first thoughts go to our five colleagues who have been injured,” the company said.

Meanwhile, officials were trying to stop runoff from reaching a nearby river after water lines ruptured and the sprinkler system activated and then broke, prompting concerns that the water mixed with chemicals, he said.

Several thousand gallons of water per minute were flowing after the blast, but much of it likely was absorbed into the ground, Schaeffer said. Environmental regulators were responding.

Schaeffer said the plant is one of the largest employers in the town of 2,000 residents, located in the depressed northeastern corner of Washington.

“It’s pretty devastating to that area,” he said.

© 2015 The Associated Press

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