WARREN TOWNSHIP - An explosion at the former Severstal steel plant caused an early Monday morning fire to blaze for several hours in what one fire official said may have been the most damaging fire he's ever witnessed.
Eight fire departments helped battle the blaze that broke out about 1:45 a.m. at RG Steel, 1040 Pine Ave. S.E., and needed about 2 1/2 hours to extinguish it. Investigators still are trying to determine a cause. No one was injured.
The maintenance building and two adjacent construction trailers were destroyed, said Warren Township fire Chief Ken Schick, causing millions of dollars in damages.
Tribune Chronicle / Ed Puskas
Eight fire departments spent more than two hours battling a blaze that broke out early Monday at RG Steel in Warren Township. Investigators still are trying to determine a cause.
"Damage-wise, it might be the biggest," Schick said. "I talked to some people at RG Steel, and they said it was the biggest explosion they've ever had."
Schick said firefighters were able to stop the fire from spreading to a building behind the maintenance building that housed motors. The plant shut down production Monday.
An attempt to reach RG Steel officials for comment was unsuccessful.
"Lucky," said Howland fire Chief James Pantalone, whose department was one of the first to arrive at the scene. "Everyone was lucky."
Pantalone said an explosion in blast furnace No. 4 caused superheated debris to blow across the area. Everything the debris landed on caught fire. Surplus equipment and material were mostly stored in the destroyed buildings. The main building was made of brick, Pantalone said, and stayed in tact.
Pantalone said the fire spread quickly because of the nature of the steel plant, which meant combustible materials, hot iron ore, blow torches, oxygen and settling cylinders and other welding equipment helped make the scene more dangerous once the explosion happened.
Pantalone said the plant was in full operation at the time of the explosion.
Rhonda Burke, a spokeswoman with the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said a representative there also is investigating.
According to a 911 dispatch report, the fire was roaring at the blast furnace to the right of the building when firefighters from Warren Township, Howland, Newton Falls, Warren city, Lordstown, Braceville, Champion and Weathersfield arrived. Firefighters finally cleared the scene after 10:30 a.m., about nine hours after they first arrived.
RG Steel bought the mill from Severstal North America Inc. in March.
''It's the nature of that business." Pantalone said. "It's a scary place to be. They have a very good safety rating, but those operations are tough.''