CONYERS — Rockdale Fire and Rescue firefighters were expected to keep watch at the scene of a BioLab chemical fire throughout the day Tuesday after fire broke out in a warehouse early Monday morning.
Fire Chief Dan Morgan said firefighters were called to the scene shortly before 6 a.m. Monday. Although the chemical that caught fire was stabilized by mid-afternoon, Morgan said firefighters continued to work the scene until about 6 p.m.
“It was very stabilized with very few fumes coming out at that point,” said Morgan. “We had the (Environmental Protection Division) all around the area monitoring the air, and they were getting very low readings, if any, so we felt good about that.”
Morgan said a couple of crews and an engine were stationed at BioLab overnight Monday to watch for any further chemical reactions.
No serious injuries were reported as a result of the fire, although Morgan said nine firefighters were taken to the hospital emergency room for treatment of chemical inhalation. He said they were treated and released by 5:30 Monday evening. Morgan explained that a brief rain storm Monday afternoon caused a wind shift, which pushed a plume of chemical smoke across an area where firefighters were resting or changing out their gear.
“From actual firefighting and being in the building and in contact with the chemical, we had no injuries,” said Morgan “ … Just as a precaution we sent them to the ER to have them checked out.”
Morgan said the cause of the chemical fire is not known at this time. He said when firefighters arrived at BioLab early Monday morning, several pallets of the dry chemical were on fire. He said the fire was “popping from pallet to pallet as they got hot enough to ignite.”
The chemical fire created a heavy, chlorine-smelling smoke that kept Interstate 20 in the area closed most of the day.
Firefighters had to first contain the fire in the warehouse where pallets of the chemical had caught fire or were smoking. The process involved moving the pallets out of the warehouse with heavy equipment and then placing the pallets in a vat of what is essentially bicarbonate of soda, Morgan said. That mixture was spread out and then rapidly submerged in water, which prevented it from reacting violently. Morgan said when the chemical is exposed to air and water simultaneously, it reacts violently, generating heat and bursting into flame.
“The stuff is fairly reactive; that’s why they store it separately,” said Morgan. “This is a warehouse just of this one chemical, and there were a lot of pallets of it in there. Just a few of them were affected, but of course they were at the back.”
BioLab, a leading manufacturer of pool chemicals, was the scene of an explosion and resulting fire in May 2004 that led to the evacuation of hundreds of people in the area.
The explosion produced a thick gray plume of toxic smoke half a mile wide that extended into Newton County. Residents were forced to evacuate for two days.
Each year since then, area law enforcement and fire officials conduct a one-day training at the BioLab facility to prepare for chemical or fire-related disasters.
Agencies responding to Monday morning’s BioLab fire included Rockdale Fire Rescue, the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office, the Conyers Police Department, Rockdale Emergency Management Agency and the county’s hazmat team.