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Salt smothers metal fire

Crews called out to plant in Weathersfield

Staff photo / Nathanael Hawthrone Weathersfield fire Chief Tom Lambert explains why table salt, rather than water, is used to fight certain fires. In the case of a metallic fire at International Technical Polymer Systems, 907 S. Main St., crews from Weathersfield, Niles, Austintown and Lane LifeTrans had to use salt to extinguish the blaze. In the background, 3,500 pounds of salt are poured on the area where the fire was. In total, 35,000 pounds of salt were needed.

WEATHERSFIELD — Table salt can fix a recipe, but on Thursday it helped firefighters avoid a catastrophe.

A magnesium and titanium fire broke out at International Technical Polymer Systems, 907 S. Main St., at 11:45 a.m. after employees were cutting the metals.

“They were cutting the metal down to size to be able to work with it. It caught on fire, it went through a tube, caught some things on the end of the tube on fire, which caught the other product in the area on fire,” Weathersfield fire Chief Tom Lambert said. “It was a pretty decent-sized fire.”

Lambert said the fire was accidental.

Metal burns hotter than other materials so using water on such a fire would result in an explosion. The salt smothers the blaze, Lambert explained.

“The salt melts over top of the magnesium titanium and builds a crust over it, which will smother the fire. If people walk on it, or drive a backhoe on it, the fire shoots back up through the ground because it breaks the barrier,” Lambert said. “You can taste it, it’s like table salt. Rock salt wouldn’t work because it’s too coarse — the fire would burn through it.”

The plant’s manager, John Partridge, said it’s common for industrial plants to have salt at the ready in case a fire happens.

“We always have salt in big barrels and bags. It’s standard,” he said.

Crews from Weathersfield, Niles, Austintown and Lane LifeTrans were at the plant to help extinguish the blaze. Lambert said his main concern was the threat of rain.

“We’re trying to get an extra layer on there due to the weather. I’m really worried about the rain,” Lambert said. “Water will melt the salt, and the fire will come back through.”

Partridge said the plant already has gone through 35,000 pounds of salt and more is on the way.

“We’re bringing about 7,000 more pounds here and we will have more delivered next week,” Partridge said.

With the threat of rain that loomed most of the day, Lambert put a fire watch on the plant for the rest of the night. A fire watch means an employee of the plant will monitor the area to make sure another fire doesn’t break out.

Lambert added there is no structural damage to the building and there were no reported injuries. He said he is thankful the wind was favorable and there was no threat to any homes or businesses.

“The way the wind was going, we had a clear path of no homes or businesses. If the wind shifted, we would have had to evacuate the neighboring businesses and homes in the area,” Lambert said.

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