Crews battling smoldering sugar refinery fire in Georgia turn to private company for help
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By GREG BLUESTEIN
Associated Press Writer
PORT WENTWORTH, Ga. (AP) -- Frustrated fire officials are turning to a private firefighting company to help fight the stubborn, high-temperature blaze at a sugar refinery that continues despite the dropping of thousands of gallons of water by a helicopter.
The search for two workers missing since an explosion Thursday at the Imperial Sugar Co. will resume once the fire is out and debris from one section of the plant is removed, authorities said. Six workers are confirmed dead.
Mayor Glenn "Pig" Jones expressed renewed hope Tuesday that the outside private help -- and rain in the forecast -- would dampen the blaze.
"Any time you bring in more resources, it's always a good thing," said Jones, the city's mayor. "We still have two people missing and I know they won't give up until they find those people."
A helicopter with a 250-gallon bucket dropped almost 100 loads of water from the Savannah River on a silo of burning sugar Monday. The sugar was burning at 4,000 degrees and the water helped reduce the temperature of the molten sugar only to about 2,800.
"Unfortunately, we could not get the quantity of water that was needed into the silos utilizing this method," said Greg Long, fire chief in this Savannah suburb.
He said a North Carolina company, Williams Fire Suppression, experienced in putting out silo and refinery fires, has pumps that can handle large amounts of water.
"I'm talking about over 5,000 gallons a minute," he said. "They also have large amounts of foam and specialized equipment that can, if necessary, penetrate the walls of the silo and put chemicals inside."
The missing workers are thought to be in a section of the plant crews haven't been able to reach because of fire and debris.
Long said the fire in the sugar silos was deeper and more stubborn that officials had thought. Thermal imaging cameras determined the fire reaches down as much as 10 or 12 feet. Long said firefighters hope to cool and solidify the top layer, forming an oxygen barrier to smother the fire below.
He said the water poured on Monday helped form a bit of a crust on the sugar, but that the fire suppression team was needed to put the blaze out completely.
The refinery, on a 160-acre site on the river upstream from Savannah, was about 12 percent destroyed, said company spokesman Steve Behm.
Imperial chief executive officer John Sheptor said the company plans to repair the plant, and an engineering team was to start work Tuesday to determine what needs to be done. He said plant workers will continue to be paid.
Seventeen workers remained hospitalized Monday, 16 in critical condition with severe burns, said Beth Frits of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta.
Paul Seckinger has burns over most of his body. His mother, Karen, said the 34-year-old is alert but can't talk because he's on a ventilator; he responds by shaking his head or moving his feet.
Imperial Sugar is paying for relatives of the hospitalized workers to stay in Augusta near their loved ones.
On the Net:
Imperial Sugar: http://www.imperialsugar.com/