Machinery parked too close to combustible material is believed to be the cause of the fire that occurred last Tuesday at the Blount County Co-Op, according to an investigation conducted by the State Fire Marshal and the Oneonta Fire Department.
No serious injuries were reported, but three first responders and two civilians were taken to the hospital where they were treated for minor injuries and released.
At 10:53 a.m., a call to the fire department stated a building at the Blount County Farmer’s Cooperative was on fire. By 10:57 a.m., personnel were on the scene, and the 4,500 square feet building, located behind the main building, was in flames and explosions could be heard coming from the fire.
Pesticide containers were the source of the explosions, according to Oneonta Assistant Fire Chief Brandon Horton. However, the fire was so extreme at the time that chemicals were consumed by the blaze.
Horton says there is no way to determine all the different chemicals that were in the building at the time of the fire, but two confirmed chemicals were telone c-35 and chloropicrin, commonly used by farmers as pesticides and fungicides.
At the scene, emergency personnel were in contact with a DOW Chemical Company agriculture chemist who said that for significant affect someone would have to be exposed to concentrated amounts of the chemicals. Other than possible smoke inhalation, residents were not affected.
Even though the chemicals were proven to be no danger to the community, Horton says emergency personnel took the necessary precautions anyway. Therefore, residents in a half-a-mile perimeter around the fire were instructed to stay inside and shut all windows and doors. No evacuations took place.
“You have to treat it as worse-case scenario, and then back down from there,” Horton said.
The chemicals getting into the water supply was another potential hazard, and emergency personnel dammed up certain areas of the creek that runs through downtown Oneonta to contain the chemicals. The concern was greater considering the creek, which runs through Rosa, is used as a water source in the town, but according to Horton, preliminary reports have shown no contamination.
First responders remained on the scene until 6 p.m. on Wednesday to confirm the fire was under control, and Horton is still in contact with ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management.)