An explosive 3-alarm fire at a metal manufacturing company in Berks County caused $3.5 million worth of damage, a state police fire marshal said Tuesday.
The massive fire that drew dozens of firefighters from Berks, Chester and Lancaster counties ignited at the Timet Corporation on Hemlock Road in Caernarvon Township shortly before 8 p.m. Monday.
The fire started in the area of the processing machine and bins of staged titanium waiting to be processed, said Tpr. Michael Yeity, a Pa. State Police fire marshal.
"I was sitting right outside the garage door and I seen a loft of oil-based smoke come out," said a worker who was standing feet from the flames.
Workers activated the suppression system and were then told to get out.
"The bosses realized there was no way we were going to stop this, so they got on the intercom and said all raw materials meet at our evacuation area," said the worker.
At one point, firefighters who battled the flames were forced to retreat. A fork lift filled with propane that was sitting near the flames exploded. Firefighters saw the tank leaking and got out in the nick of time, said officials.
"A ball of fire came out the side and they had all the fire company members retreat in the area due to the potential danger of flash or another explosion," said Chief Paul Stolz, Caernarvon Twp. Police Dept.
Miraculously, no one was injured during the fight. It took dozens of firefighters from about 20 different departments more than three hours to bring it under control.
Firefighters were forced to use foam to contain the fire because of the substances inside the building. Titanium is highly flammable, and officials said water would have caused the fire to spread.
Plumes of smoke billowed above the manufacturing company and could be seen for miles in the Morgantown area.
"It was a stubborn fire because of the type of building and the ventilation until they got the roof opened up and allowed ventilation, that's when they got the fire under control," said Stolz.
Authorities credited Timet's safety training of its employees for helping to prevent injuries and minimize and contain the fire damage.