Explosion and Fire in Benzol Plant at Solvay

Explosion and Fire in Benzol Plant at Solvay

The benzol plant of the Semet Solvay Company, located at Solvay, N. Y., was completely destroyed by fire, which followed an explosion on Sunday afternoon, July 22. It is believed the explosion was caused by sparks from a passing locomotive. The loss is estimated at $40,000. Five men employed in the building escaped just before the blast occurred. All that remained of the structure was a mass of twisted metal, inside of which a fierce, stubborn fire burned steadily all night while streams from nine lines of hose were poured into it. The building was next to the large coke manufacturing plant, which, it was feared, during the early stage of the fire, would be destroyed. The benzol plant was a sheet iron shell about seventy-five feet high and reinforced with steel girders and supports. It contained besides other oil refining machinery, five large steel columns, or tanks, each containing between 700 and 800 gallons of oil. There is a vent pipe leading through the roof of the building and, according to the theory advanced by officials, the sparks ignited the vapor from this pipe. The explosion was heard in all parts of Solvay and the shock was felt in all buildings nearby. The upper part of the structure was blown over toward the roadway and great sheets of iron were partly ripped off the girders and string pieces. It is believed that the peculiar construction of the building prevented large fragments from being blown off the building, and the mass of iron and steel crumpled up into a pile. Flames from the burning benzol shot up sixty feet or more. The Solvay company’s fire brigade responded immediately to the alarm, and every available piece of hose was put into commission. As it was apparent that this force would not be adequate, the Volunteer Fire Department of the village was summoned. With the fire burning fiercely in the building and apparently unaffected by the water poured upon it, there was immediate danger of the other four tanks exploding. Men working on the fire said that these tanks were opened and the benzol allowed to run out increasing the blaze, but preventing any possibility of an explosion. When the water was turned into the building clouds of black smoke enveloped the building and the firemen. At different periods this smoke was so dense that the plant, railroad tracks and roadway for a radius of several hundred feet were hidden. While the firemen fought the blaze, flames shot dangerously near the coke plant, but several streams prevented it from catching fire. Immediately after the explosion occurred the entire Solvay Process Company’s police force was called and guards stationed about the burning building. No one but firemen were allowed to go inside the gates and the guard lines were established about fifty feet from the fence that surrounds the plant. Chief George H. Curtis divided the men into divisions and prepared for an all night watch. The same arrangement was made with the firemen. The fire burned until all the benzol was consumed. On March 6, 1913, an explosion ocurred in one of the buildings of the caustic soda department, a short distance east of the benzol plant. An explosion of a boiler caused a caustic conveyor to fall, carrying with it the roof and one side of the building. Five men were injured. The damage amounted to $125,000. On March 31, 1915, there was an explosion in the carbolic acid plant. Eighteen men were injured and damage was estimated at $35,000.

Benzol Plant at Solvay, N. Y., After the Explosion.

Photo Courtesy of Syracuse “Post-Standard.”

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