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Ocala Fla--Plastic Plant Fire & Explosion Kills 1 Worker

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  • captstanm1
    Follow Up Investigation

    Violations preceded blast at Ocala plastics plant

    Associated Press

    Last update: 28 August 2003

    OCALA -- Investigators have found numerous violations of fire codes at a plastics processing plant where an explosion killed a worker last week.

    Because of the 14 violations discovered in the wake of the Aug. 18 blast, the U.S. Plastic Lumber Corp. plant is closed and 20 employees are out of work until the problems can be corrected.

    "We hope to get all those employees back to work as soon as we can reopen," Mark Alsentzer, president of the Boca Raton-based business, said Tuesday. "We are trying to get the items taken care of so we can get back to business."

    Ocala Fire-Rescue spokesman Capt. Wendell Rora said violations include: improper fire sprinkler systems; a broken fire hydrant stuck in the open position; malfunctioning emergency exit lights; a lack of no-smoking signs; and unsecured acetylene and oxygen compressed-gas cylinders.

    Alsentzer said the violations were nothing more than updates of fire codes that took effect since the last inspection. Fire officials, however, say the violations are items that were a part of the fire code long before USPL moved into the facility in 1999.

    The device that caught fire was drying and grinding wood that would have been mixed with a plastic material to make boards.

    Alsentzer said he believes wood dust may have ignited in the dryer and the pressure caused the explosion, which forced a large, metal duct to blast loose. Alsentzer said last week he believes Scott Stokes, 35, of Ocala was killed from being struck by the duct.

    The explosion remains under investigation by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, the State Fire Marshal's Office, Ocala Fire-Rescue and the Ocala Police Department.

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  • captstanm1
    Follow Up

    'A ball of flame'
    Blast at lumber plant kills a worker, injures another

    Published August 19. 2003 8:30AM

    Senior Staff Writer

    OCALA - One man was killed and a co-worker injured Monday morning when a wood dryer exploded at U.S. Plastic Lumber on Northeast 25th Avenue, shooting a ball of flame and smoke into the sky.

    The 8:30 a.m. explosion killed Scott Stokes, 34, of Ocala, and injured Michael Day, 26, who was taken to Munroe Regional Medical Center, where he spent the day undergoing tests before being released, his fiancee said.

    The State Fire Marshal's Office, Ocala Police Department, Ocala Fire-Rescue and U.S. Plastic Lumber, also known as USPL, launched separate investigations into the explosion on Monday.

    The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration will also investigate.

    ''This is the first time something like this has happened since I've been working with the company. It's so terrible,'' said USPL President Mark Alsentzer, who has been with the Chicago-based company for six years.

    Alsentzer said a human resource specialist will arrive today to help employees cope with Stokes' death. Also, a company investigator will begin looking into the accident.

    ''We must find out what happened so we know how to proceed,'' he said.

    U.S. Plastic Lumber makes a wood fiber product commonly known as plastic lumber. The device that caught fire was actually drying and grinding wood normally mixed with a plastic material to make all types of construction lumber, primarily decking.

    The fire and subsequent explosion occurred in a 40-foot-long cylindrical grinder/dryer, which is fed pieces of hard wood from a hopper. The grinder/dryer is about 10 feet in diameter and spins like a clothes dryer.

    Alsentzer said he believes wood ignited in the dryer and the pressure caused the explosion, which forced a large metal duct to blast loose. Investigators looked at the twisted pipe after the explosion while firefighters attempted to put out a fire in the hopper.

    ''I don't know for sure, but I suspect the pipe may have struck (Stokes) after the explosion,'' Alsentzer said at the scene. ''It's too early to tell what happened, but we intend to find out."

    Immediately after the explosion, which rattled windows up to seven blocks away, Ocala Police Department officers blocked off Northeast 25th Avenue briefly while Ocala Fire-Rescue officials investigated the potential of chemical releases and more explosions.

    ''We did not have to evacuate the area because it was contained to the facility,'' said Ocala Fire-Rescue's spokesman Capt. Wendell Rora.

    When firefighters arrived they found flames shooting from the dryer.

    ''When we got here, one of the employees was brought out of the smoke to us, and we evaluated him,'' said Ocala Fire-Rescue paramedic/firefighter Preston Bowlin. He said other firefighters began putting water on the burning dryer.

    Day, who initially refused treatment, was about 30 feet from the dryer when it exploded.

    Danielle Bork, Day's fiancee, said she was in contact with him via cell phone on Monday. Day was released Monday afternoon and then spent several hours filling out paperwork and talking to investigators about the explosion.

    ''He's doing fine,'' she said.

    A co-worker said Stokes was a Desert Storm veteran.

    Authorities said Stokes, who was pronounced dead about an hour after he was rushed to Munroe Regional Medical Center, was very close to the dryer when it exploded.

    ''He was lying about 10 feet from where the explosion occurred,'' said Cmdr. Chris Bradford with the Munroe Regional Medical Center ambulance service. ''He was rushed to Munroe."

    City employees working in a building on Northeast 30th Avenue felt the vibration from the explosion, and one saw a ball of flame shoot into the sky. The fire ball quickly disappeared and thick black smoke began rising over the facility, which sits on a 37-acres site.

    The large machinery is under a 30-foot-high roof that is open underneath — similar to a carport. As soon as the fire began, it triggered the sprinkler system, which ran for more than hour, until Ocala Fire-Rescue Capt. Dennis Lawson turned it off the system.

    Lawson said officials squirted a chemical called F-500 into the hopper to stop the wood from smoldering. Just a few years ago, a large silo of wood chips caught fire at USPL, and that took firefighters about 18 hours to extinguish.

    ''We hope F-500 will keep us from having to monitor the fire all night,'' said Lawson, adding that the chemical seeps through the gaps of the wood chips and smothers the fire.

    Meanwhile, the Ocala Police Department's major crimes unit is also working the case. Officials said it appears to be an accident, but all investigative avenues must be followed before declaring the case accidental.

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  • Ocala Fla--Plastic Plant Fire & Explosion Kills 1 Worker

    Plant explosion kills one, injures another

    By Associated Press
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 19, 2003

    OCALA - An explosion at a plastics processing plant killed one worker, left another hospitalized and forced the evacuation of dozens of employees Monday, officials said.

    The blast occurred about 8:30 a.m. in a hopper containing wood chips at US Plastic Lumber Ltd., which uses plastic waste and wood to make building materials, furnishings and industrial supplies.

    Scott Stokes, 34, of Ocala was killed. Michael Day, 26, of Ocala suffered minor injuries.

    A huge fireball shot into the sky after the explosion, but no other injuries were reported as the company's 50 employees were evacuated, said Capt. Wendell Rora of the Ocala Fire-Rescue Department.

    Officials were investigating the cause of the explosion.

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