An errant spark causes some zirconium filings to ignite

by: JASON CHANEY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The fire that was started by a spark to a highly-combustible pile of zirconium filings at EnviroTech on Tuesday resulted in a large column of smoke that drifted over Prineville throughout the day.

A chemical fire at EnviroTech broke out Tuesday morning, causing alarm and concern from the Prineville community when a large plume of smoke rose into the air.
   Crook County Fire and Rescue Fire Chief Matt Smith said on Thursday that the smoke had dissipated from the community.
   “Limited smoke is coming from the pit where the fire was at,” said Smith of the fire on Wednesday.
   Crook County Fire and Rescue staff were dispatched to the fire at 11:18 a.m. on Tuesday to Bus Evans Road at the Prineville Freight Depot. Crook County Fire Marshal Casey Kump later reported that the fire, which was approximately three miles west of town, started at EnviroTech Services.
   The business is located on property owned by the Prineville Freight Depot, and the facility makes road deicer and dust products. The byproduct of these products is zirconium, which is highly combustible. Kump said that a spark from a mechanized shovel ignited a pile of metal filings, which caused the fire.
   When CCFR arrived, an EnviroTech engineer and SMAF Environmental were on scene, pouring dry cement on the zirconium to smother the fire. Because of the nature of zirconium, water only makes the fire worse.
   “It will flare up and burn more intensely,” commented Smith of the chemical reaction to water.
   Kump said that the fire caused a large column of smoke, which could be seen for miles and drew a great deal of concern from local residents. Since the smoke from zirconium can be an irritant, Smith said that CCFR coordinated with Crook County Emergency Management Director Dave Dethman, and they also coordinated closely with the Crook County Sheriff's Office, Pioneer Memorial Hospital, Crook County Health Department, and the local schools.
    "We recommended anyone with respiratory problems to stay indoors," said Kump on Tuesday.
   The smoke from the fire began to dissipate later on Tuesday afternoon. No evacuations were enacted as a result of the fire, and Smith said he has heard of no injuries in the community as a result of the smoke from the fire. The incident was turned over by CCFR to SMAF Environmental at approximately 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
   Smith said a similar incident happened with Enviro Tech within the last year, and CCFR responded to the fire. After the incident, they met with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and EnviroTech, and a plan was drafted to provide a better containment area for EnviroTech’s byproduct, zirconium. In spite of the lined pit that was up to standards and met the regulations outlined by the DEQ, a fire still broke out.
   Smith said on Thursday that CCFR will work with the City of Prineville, EnviroTech, and the DEQ to avoid fires from zirconium in the future.
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