No injuries were reported to either plant employees or to firefighters who were alerted to the scene following a 911 call about 6:30 p.m. Employees had evacuated the plant before the first firefighters arrived.
More than two dozen firefighters from Baldwin County Fire Rescue and Milledgeville Fire Rescue responded to the fire, which reportedly sent flames up to the ceiling beams of the plant’s smaller warehouse, located to the left front portion of the building that overlooks Ga. Route 22 near Britt Waters Road.
At least three different agencies were involved Tuesday in investigating the fire, including Baldwin County Fire Rescue, Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Emergency Response Team.
“The fire was contained to one section in the warehouse,” according to Baldwin County Fire Rescue Chief Steve Somers.
He said the fire was believed to have been caused by a reactive chemical. The name of the chemical had not been disclosed publicly as of Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ll have it in the report as soon as it is completed,” Somers said.
The fire chief said none of the plant’s employees or any of the firefighters were exposed to the chemical, however.
“Several other non-chemical containers also sustained heat damages from the fire,” Somers said. “Those products were not flammable. The fire just caused the substance in them to leak out.”
Somers said the only pallet of chemical substance that was what he described as hazardous was the one that caught fire.
The Milledgeville Zschimmer & Schwarz plant produces several different chemicals that are used for soap and other products.
“Most of the chemicals that they produce are not hazardous,” Somers said.
The fire spread smoke throughout much of the building, including the office area.
“There seems to be no other ignition source in that area, so that’s what we, and the chemist from the company, are going with at this time,” Somers said. “The chemist tried to explain to us that the product was not in a settled state. In fact, they were in the process of getting rid of it. They were not involved in getting rid of it when this happened, but they were working on the process of getting it out of the warehouse. But, it reacted before that could do something with it.”
Somers said the evacuation involved a skeleton crew of employees. All of them stayed on the front side of the building while county and city firefighters combed the building in search of hot spots.
The fire chief said a couple of ceiling beams were damaged due to the heat.
“The fire probable lasted just a few seconds, but it was hot enough to do that amount of damage in that short a period of time,” Somers said. “Immediately, it set off approximately 40 sprinkler heads in the warehouse.”
Somers said the plant’s offices sustained no real damages.
Firefighters were led by Baldwin County Fire Rescue Deputy Chief of Operations Philip Adams.
“Everybody did a great job of working together,” Somers said, referring to county and city firefighters. “Anytime we have a structure fire, we back each other up. The city actually got there a few seconds before we did. And they did an awesome job in figuring out what was going on so they could give us a heads-up when we got there.”